That Creepy Anti-Christmas Elf

More than ever I love the Christmas season.  It’s not just the beautiful hymns or the birth narrative, I’m all about the secular stuff too.  As I write this a Jazzy version of Let It Snow is playing on my Echo, I am anxiously awaiting my first ugly sweater in the mailelf and I am lusting for a warm peppermint mocha.  I think being a dad for several years now has made me a festive guy.  I also like seeing on Facebook and Instagram the sweet pictures of my friends and their kids cozied up between the fireplace and the Christmas tree.  I can be cynical sometimes but a little less so with Christmas wonder.

That all said, I hate and I mean HATE The Elf on the Shelf and always will.  Elf on the Shelf is shame inducing, privacy creeping, and of course quite creepy.  Full disclosure:  our family doesn’t do the Santa Clause thing.  We like to read The Night Before Christmas and wear Santa hats but we have always taught our kids Santa is pretend for a variety of reasons; primarily concerns about undermining Jesus’ message of grace.  If you want to hear more on that I did a podcast episode on it a few years ago.  While we don’t do Santa in the way many do, I like Santa plenty and I think some things are far worse than teaching your kids the jolly fat man is real.  One of those far worse things is Elf on the Shelf.

Don’t dismiss this take as a personal grudge against the literally untouchable Elf on the Shelf, plenty of non-Christian child psychologists and thinkers share my detest for EOTS.  Hank Stuever at The Washington Post described it as “just another nannycam in a nanny state obsessed with penal codes.”  The Atlantic published a take down of this tradition it describes as dangerous in which creepy was probably the kindest descriptor.  Most significantly Psychology Today labeled it a “dangerous parental crutch.”  Psychology Today’s Canadian counterpart has published multiple similar articles.  A staggering number of child psychologists have lamented the tremendous growth of Elf on the Shelf.

I believe Christians should have the absolute harshest criticism of this analogue nanny cam.  Elf on the Shelf’s stated design is to watch and report a child’s good or bad behavior to report back to Santa whether or not the children are worthy of coal or a Nintendo Switch.  The reason why parents spend hours on Pinterest to find the perfect place to put him is because Elf on the Shelf is designed to give the impression he might be watching at anytime.  This behavior spying is further reinforced by the main rule children must follow, don’t touch the Elf.  If children touch the Elf the kids might realize he is just a doll and return to lose the guilt motivation for behaving right during the holidays.

The problem is that scripture repeatedly shows us true obedience and character is fundamentally others (especially God) focused.  Obedience done to get the benefits that come when others see one’s good deeds is nothing but being little Pharisees.  Of course occasionally giving a young child a reward for their obedience is quite beneficiary but when they are taught to live for rewards a moralist you have made.  Christian morality teaches we are who we are when no one is watching us, The Elf on the Shelf makes sure we are always watched and just bottle up the demons we need to face head on.  Christian parents are supposed to teach their kids to do the right thing because it honors God and brings joy to others, Elf on the Shelfers are taught to do what mommy says because if they act up in their room when dinner is on the stove Elfy’s gonna snitch.

Another problem in this is The Elf on the Shelf is a thief, a thief that steals away a child’s privacy and robs parents of the opportunity to offer their kids trust.  Elf on the Shelf is strangely one more way we are putting off letting children grow up.  Part of growing up and having a private (and public) relationship with Christ is being given the opportunity of privacy.  Parents that use Elf on the Shelf are quite content taking that away from their children.  If we make sure our kids are never in situations in which their behavior is between them and God we are implying we aren’t willing to trust them to make their own choices.  Trust is an important cog in any healthy relationship and even Christian parents with the meanest 2nd grader ought to show Christian mercy by extending some level of trust even when it backfires.  These private times when we trust our kids is frequently when even young children can find for themselves who they really are and who their God truly is.  A friend was surprised a few months ago to find his young son praying privately in his room not long after being given the opportunity to go off and play.  How much would The Elf on the Shelf have tainted that moment?  My friend would never know if his son prayed because God was at work or because doing so may get the Elf to put in a good word with Santa.

Brothers and sisters, this year let’s hide The Elf on the Shelf permanently.  Let’s teach our kids real obedience and surprise them with trust.  The Christmas message is a message of God loving us rebels deserving of eternal coal by sending the God man who bought us everlasting life.  The Elf on the Shelf who counts our good and our bad is antithetical to the real message of Christmas.  Go find a new tradition that exalts Christ or is just harmless cute fun this Christmas time.  Get rid of that elf and probably don’t replace him with the Mensch on the Bench.


Girl, Wash Your Theology

In America alone self-help is at least an eleven billion dollar industry.  You read that right billions with a b.  On top of that Americans spend over 200 billion dollars on mental health, these numbers are more than every other country in the world combined.  Self-help of course can be needed and mental health problems are often very real but I suspect the extreme diGirl Washsparity between the United Stated and the world is a symptom of a greater issue.  Americans care a whole lot about ourselves, more so than any people group that has ever lived.  The strange thing though is the American obsession with self comes in many forms; some Americans give their whole life to the support of more other Americans give their lives to be more themselves.  The strange truth of America is we can be simultaneously one of the most unhealthy countries in the world while also leading the world in gym membership and diet spending.  The only reason we are not a walking contradiction is seemingly every one of these paths is an inward focused one.  We live for our selves, talk a whole lot about ourselves, and frankly our greatest national idol is ourselves.  A product of this strange American naval gazing is the popular new book Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis.  Despite having some clear strengths, Hollis’ new bestseller is nothing if it’s not self focused.

Girl, Wash Your Face has received some HARSH criticism and EMPHATIC praise already.  Several reputable Christian ministries have issued sharp rebukes of Hollis’ words while audiences are absolutely raving about the new book on sites like Amazon and Good Reads.  The buzz around this book is not surprising as the book is the rare Christian book to top the New York Times bestseller list and months after it came out it is still incredibly hard to find (it took me a week and who lot of luck to get the print edition) and as of this article being written the various formats rank #1, #2, and #4 on Amazon’s Christian bestsellers list. In a post literature world somehow Girl, Wash Your Face is the biggest Christian breakout hit in many many years.

There is some debate as to whether or not we can call Girl, Wash Your Face a religious book or not.  I want to navigate this in the beginning because it’s important.  GWYF is under a Christian publishing company, is marketed strongly to the “Christian market”, and Hollis quite frequently talked about her faith even if she has an awareness non-Christians will read her book.  We must call this an attempt at a Christian book and that’s why Christian leaders must take it seriously.  I disagreed profoundly with the worldview of the family film Trolls but as it makes no claim of being Christian I’m merely mildly annoyed with it.  If Trolls was sold at Family Christian Bookstores I would oppose it and if GWYF were any ordinary secular self-help book I would still have disagreements with it but I would probably ignore it.

Before addressing the considerable problems of Rachel Hollis’ worldview I want to acknowledge both strengths in Girl, Wash Your Face and discount some unfair criticism.  A friend of mine stopped reading GWYF half way in and she really missed out.  The third quarter of GWYF really surprised me.  A few consecutive chapters have little objectable claims in them and Hollis’ chapters on weight loss and alcohol consumption are really helpful.  Hollis urges dietary and alcohol moderation with both thoughtfulness and needed boldness.  Hollis wants women and probably men to have healthier lifestyles not so they can look amazing but so they can have wellness and energy.  In urging this Hollis is practical and stays away from dietary old wives tales so popular in her genre.  Some of the criticism of GWYF is misguided as well.  Some quote an early chapter to suggest Hollis believes you can trust the obese.  This claim looks really concerning especially when paired with a particular sentence from GWYF.  Sadly those critiques have substantially ignored the context and Hollis could not be accurately labeled a “fat shamer.”  The other critique that I think goes to far is the claim that GWTF advocates Religious Pluralism or the view that all ways to God are equally valid.  Hollis probably does believe the similar heresy of Universalism that says all will come to Christ through Jesus whether they worship Him now or not.   This said Hollis knows her intended audience in GWYF and seems to only dance close with universalism rather than clearly teach it.

While not every criticism of GWYF sticks, the problems in this book are significant and nearly omnipresent throughout the book.  This book somehow even more than most self-helps works is extraordinarily self-focused at times even verging on narcissism.  Hollis does indeed write that women need to understand themselves as the hero of their story, which is problematic.  The bigger problem isn’t this famous quote but that she repeats the premise over and over and over again and she makes it crystal clear in both the dangerous introduction and the final chapter that this putting yourself first is the fundamental premise of this book.  Some claim that when Hollis says “you are meant to be the hero of your own story” or when she constantly repeats “you control your own life” she is just rejecting passivity but before the first quote she clearly alludes to the classic humanist poem Invictus. Hollis believes every woman needs to build her life around herself, she needs to be her own hero as her final chapter says over and over again.  This is so clearly at odds with scripture that identifies Jesus as the hero of our story (John 3:17), God as our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1-3), and our purpose being to glorify God (Is 43:7).  To be clear, Hollis does eventually in the absolute final chapter acknowledge she needs God on her side to fulfill her great story but even in this God is presented as a tool to help Rachel accomplish her goals not the sovereign Lord of the universe.  In this Hollis actually is reminiscent of the Revivalist Charles Finney who stressed moral formation and right living with God merely as the one who helps us pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  Hollis actually refers to the old adage about God only helping those who help themselves without realizing this is fundamentally at odds with the Jesus who came not for the healthy but the sick.  Rachel Hollis sees herself as her own God with “the creator” at best being the wind beneath her wings.  All of this self-power focus is bad but what makes it worse is Hollis gives anything but the indication that this self care is for God’s glory, she’s far worse than Finney.  Hollis gives specific examples of the dreams she has and is controlling her life to achieve.  In the past she aspired to meet Matt Damon and to purchase a $1000 purse (both of which she achieves).  The purse example is especially troubling as she portrays her multiple year obsession with the status symbol as a really good thing because it urged her to work harder and do great things.  This is text book envy (which is against the 10 commandments for goodness sake).  On top of that Peter commands women to be modest by not having gaudy garments in 1 Peter.  If that purse is modest I don’t know what isn’t.  This selfish envy that looks for treasures in this world didn’t stop in the past.  Now Rachel is inspired by her dream of having a high end Hawaiian beach house where she will be serenaded by her favorite celebrities.  Matthew 6:19-20 shows us Rachel is looking for treasure in the wrong world (vain treasure at that) and if her treasures are on this earth so will her heart be.

Hollis’ self first worldview is able to be achieved because she doesn’t see humanity as fundamentally broken or in need of grace.  Her view of self (her Gospel) is, “I studied the gospel and finally grasped the divine knowledge that I am loved and worthy and enough as I am.”  Rachel doesn’t believe she is enough in Jesus but that she is worthy to God of great things in her born fallen state.  This explains why Hollis over and over states the main tenant of Christianity is loving people rather than the divine truth of salvation in Jesus.  Hollis’s “Christianity” is about being a good person not realizing none of us are good enough but Jesus gives grace (Romans 3:23, 6:23).

Even that goodness of Hollis’ religion is only goodness to self.  An example of this is her words about parenting.  Hollis is clearly a mom who works hard in every sense.  She obviously works outside of the home but she makes clear if a woman prefer to stay at home with her babies that’s great for them.  I have no problem with moms working outside the home but Hollis’ reasons for mothers choosing to work or stay at home are actually both deeply selfish and reflective of this me first mentality.  Hollis is very clear she works outside of the home not to help provide the family’s basic needs but to pursue her dreams.  Hollis actually thinks putting her dreams before being with the kids more than the babysitter as a great parenting move.  She says, “Did I really want them to see me spending my life pursuing a dream while also anxiously acting as though I didn’t deserve that right?  Absolutely not.”  In Hollis’ worldview the pursuit of our own dreams is the most important thing and also the most important lesson for her kids.  The Proverbs 31 woman on the other hand works hard even in ways she doesn’t want out of a desire to love her family more than herself.

“You should be the very first of your priorities!”  That line is from near the beginning of Girl, Wash Your Face and it should trouble Christians.  Rachel Hollis clearly worships what she sees in the mirror more than anything else and because she targets Christians with this message she is therefore a false teaching heretic to say it bluntly.  I think Hollis’ (and several others to be fair) message of putting self first is probably the most dangerous false Gospel today and the one that we least notice in our pews.  Hollis’ worldview is peppered throughout Girl, Wash Your Face and I honestly have to question how someone who truly understands or believes the Gospel of salvation through Jesus can possibly not be bothered by it.  Maybe if you are a church member and find the words in this book speak more to you than Biblical preaching it’s because Hollis’ false religion is also your false religion.  If this is the case read Romans and John far before the self help books.

The theological danger of Girl, Wash Your Face is by far the biggest problem but beyond that there is a likewise dangerous secondary premise; you can accomplish all your dreams if you just work hard enough.  This is obviously unbiblical but further this is naïve to the point of being cancerous for society at large.  Psychological studies have shown a causative link between self-help movements and anxiety, Alisa Childers is right to call this all exhausting.  Rachel Hollis doubles down on this to disastrous effect.   Hollis bluntly says “if you’re unhappy, that’s on you.”  How exhausting?  We need to make ourselves better and if we are ever unsatisfied we just need to put in more hard work?

I especially can’t imagine how frustrated someone in the majority world would be reading this book.  In the Congo where most people earn less in a year than Rachel Hollis makes in a few minutes would dreaming bring you any closer to that beach home in Hawaii?  Should a paralyzed boy in Vietnam ignore the authority figure who tells him he’ll never be the Ravens star Receiver?  Realistically most Americans probably are hardly more likely to achieve their dreams than the previous examples but in most countries Hollis’ words only help as kindling.  If everyone believes they can achieve whatever magnanimous dreams they have the vast majority realistically will miss by alot and could go broke in the process.  Studies have consistently shown Self Help books have a marginal impact at best but ones like this can definitely leave you depressed when you probably do fail.  The one thing we consistently find the self help movement successfully able to do is give those in middle Management enough aspiration to be their boss that they don’t question their boss or the system they are in.  Rachel Hollis’ ugliest quality is arrogance but oddly I think her arrogance is the kind of arrogance our society regrettable honors.  Rachel acts like because she was supposedly able to work harder and dream harder than others she has pulled herself up by her own bootstrap without having any kind of societal advantages.  Rachel clearly has innate talents that few have (I don’t), married a successful husband, and genetics convenient for her time.  She has undoubtedly gone through deep sadness but she is arrogant to assume she rescued herself from them and so can you.

Similar self important creative work comes in the lyrics of Katy Perry music.  Katy Perry sings how she will make people hear her roar and how we are all fireworks meant to shoot high in the sky.  This is all foolish, selfish, and arrogant but nobody claims Perry is a strong Christian; at least not anymore.  Katy Perry had a similar sentimental Christian upbringing as Hollis but Perry stopped claiming to be an Evangelical at some point.  Many say Katy Perry’s lyrics emphasizing a self idolatry are emblematic of her rebellion against her Christian upbringing.  Maybe Katy Perry didn’t really rebel, maybe Katy Perry merely followed a religion of self worship often disguised as Christianity to its logical conclusion.  Maybe there is no outside force pushing our kids to idolize self-expression.  Maybe that voice of self worship is coming from within American Christianity and spreading as our only effective evangelism.  If so Girl, Wash Your Face is nothing but a gospel tract for the worst false gospel to infiltrate American Christianity.  Read Girl, Wash Your Face or follow Rachel Hollis on the gram if you’d like but do not let yourself be deluded into thinking she’s remotely consistent with the Christian worldview.

Fear Based Parenting

Jenny was protected from every possible danger by her parents.  Jenny never broke a bone or bruised her knee because she was not permitted to do activities that might lead to such things.  Growing up Jenny was so protected from drugs or alcohol she wasn’t sure she even knew what beer or marijuana even looked like.  Most notably Jenny was protected spiritually.  Jenny spent virtually every hour growing up in either her home or her church, her mom and dad signed her up for every church activity so long as it wasn’t outreach focused.  Jenny was homeschooled at every level and her parents even considered a home school college of sorts.  Jenny only knew professing Christians and she was routinely presented with negative caricatures of non-Christians and their worldview.  Jenny was raised to think lost people are stupid, dangerous, and constantly out to get her but this facade wouldn’t last.  Within months of Jenny enrolling in a community college where she could stay at home after graduating high school, Jenny had changed.  Jenny fell for a rebel that was nice to her and before long she was sleeping with him, taking hard drugs with him, and getting money through illegal means so she could get a place with this guy.  Jenny is a real person but not actually named Jenny and by God’s grace she now loves Jesus and her kids that she doesn’t shelter.  Jenny’s parents are wonderful Christian people and they cared for their daughter through her rebellion but now they know you can’t always protect your kids.

Too many Christian parents for very good reasons let fear define their parenting more than anything else.  Home schooling can be very good but many Christians homeschool because they are afraid their kids will become sinners if exposed to other sinners.  Church activities can be fantastic  but sometimes the calendar becomes far too full of them to keep our kids away from negative influences.  Christians can disagree about holidays or magical novels but Christian parents can act like these are more powerful than Gospel celebrations or the book breathed out by God.  Fear based parenting is a plight on the church today because though it means well, it’s built upon terrible theology, it’s flatly unbiblical, and it hinders the Gospel.

It’s surprisingly common for outreach-based ministries within a church to morph into just another form of protecting our own.  A few years ago I was conversing with a mother with children involved in a ministry that had undergone such a transformation and much to my confusion this mother was grateful for the shift.  This mother had come to love this ministry because she felt it was a great way to keep her kids from becoming corrupted and evil through the influence of bad, non-Christian kids.  The bad news for this mother is she’s too late.  Her kids already were corrupted by sin.  Her kids could not be protected from being corrupted because they had corruption and wickedness in them down to their hearts and they like all of us were marked by this corruption from conception in the womb.  Psalm 51:5, alongside many other Bible verses, show us every human is a rebel capable of great evil from conception.  Lost people don’t have to teach your kids to do evil things.  That evil is very much already there.  This also means we can’t keep our kids Christian by hiding them from other worldviews because they come pre-packaged as lost pagans and can only become Christians when God gives them the gift of new birth.  According to 1 John 2:19 if our kids walk away from Christianity after being exposed to other worldviews they did not lose their Christianity but gave up a fake Christianity.  If anything, this is a good thing for their souls.  We don’t need to be afraid our truly saved kids will stop being Christians or not grow as Christians because real faith sticks and grows no matter what environment it is in.

The other deeply unbiblical element to fear based parenting is, of course, the deeply unbiblical concept of living in fear.  More than 60 times, the Bible commands God’s people not to fear.  Few commands even come close to this number.  Fear is always a temptation to God’s people but it’s deeply problematic because it is an idolatry of sorts.  Fear thinks we can control our fates if only we do this or that thing, it acts as if there is no one out there to keep me or my child safe but me.  Trusting God is fundamentally seeing Him as infinitely more powerful than the negative possibilities that go through our mind at night.  Trusting God isn’t being foolish, but it does realize God can work mightily even if we have been foolish.  Trusting God realizes our parenting decisions are important but nowhere close to as impactful as His sovereignty.

Finally, fear based parenting hinders our Gospel impact.  Once our kids know Jesus, the job of every parent is first and foremost to equip their kids and send them out to do the Lord’s work in our lost world.  Our kids and youth can be some of the most effective evangelists to their lost classmates or neighbors, but if we fail to let them meet lost people their powerful Gospel message will be kept hidden.  If we raise them to fear or hate the lost they will rarely if ever share the Gospel even as adults.  Fear based parenting doesn’t only hurt our families, it fails to love the lost who are no more in need of God’s grace than us or our kids.

This month the most controversial holiday in Christian circles comes, Halloween.  At Faith Family Church we will not be having any evening activities that night.  You as parents might chose to take your child to another church’s Halloween alternative, stay at home with the lights out, enjoy the holiday with limits on scary things, or just go crazy with it all like most people.  We are taking the night off to allow you all to make your own decisions in this matter but I encourage you no matter what meditate on the power of our great God rather than getting wrapped up in your parenting fears and perhaps rely on this power to tell your neighbor about God’s grace that night.  We don’t know what will happen to our kids when they leave the nest and sheltering them while they are with us doesn’t change that.  Instead of living in terror of what will happen when our kids meet the evil world, let’s trust in God who is both powerful to use them in this evil world and fix the evil within their own hearts.Fear

Being Aliens

I’ve always enjoyed science fiction films that act as social commentary in one way or another.  One of the best recent movies to expertly use science fiction to make a greater point was District 9.  District 9 is a decade old alien film in which certain humans are the villains and the aliens are primarily misunderstood victims.  In District 9 the aliens who are called Prawns come to earth posing no real threat and possessing gifts of technology they could share with humanity.  Unfortunately for these Prawns, mankind sees them as strange foreigners and quickly most come to hate these aliens that have a different way of life then mankind.  Amidst this rejection many of the Prawns keep hope through the knowledge that though they are in a foreign land they would one day go to their home world.  This hope impacted their whole lives while on this earth; it caused them to invest their time preparing to return home, this hope enables them to endure hard treatment, it even allows them to show great compassion to someone who hated them the most.

Today it is hard to avoid the reality that Christians are aliens in this world.  We aren’t the evil invader kind of aliens, but we are certainly the District 9 refugee kind of aliens.  Though recent generations of American Christians have been able to operate under the wrong assumptions that they belong in this world and that our culture is basically Christian, Generation Z Christians will not have that luxury.  Our youth need to be prepared for the reality that if they are in Christ they are aliens to this fallen world and maybe if we try to prepare them they will in turn teach us to better live like aliens.

This year Faith Family Church’s youth ministry will embrace a new name, namely Area 51.  We love the emphasis of The Blob youth group and we hope to continue to be a place where youth are swallowed up into the blob.  This said, Area 51 will be a name that helps us embrace the reality that our teens are aliens.  We want the reality of our alien nature to not only be something our youth come to understand but something they celebrate.  We hope this will show our young people we will and should stand out in this world, they should expect persecution, and that “Cultural Christianity” is an oxymoron.  We will soon sing songs about our journey to our heavenly home, we will have events that reflect our weirdness, but the most exciting way we will emphasize this will be our Fall Area 51 study.  We will study the Bibles letter to alien Christians; 1 Peter.  1 Peter is the Apostle Peter’s letter to Christians scattered and far from their heavenly home that they await.  The Christians Peter wrote to were being rejected for their faith and were learning how who their new heavenly citizenship changes their lifestyles and choices.  Peter even calls these Christians aliens multiple times.  Of course, Peter wasn’t thinking of space aliens, he compared Christians to what we know as sojourners or just immigrants.  No matter the specific imagery, Peter wrote to Christians that found out the hard way they don’t belong here. The audience of 1 Peter sounds a whole lot like the upcoming Generation Z to me.  I think this Fall study that we will call “Being Aliens” will truly help teens see who they are.

Be warned, if our youth truly embrace life as they aliens society will regard them as we might become uncomfortable ourselves.  For all the things Generation Z is criticized for, they are far less interested than other generations in waging Partisan warfare.  In our churches even Christian Gen Zers are far less interested in marriage laws than they are interested in helping the needy.  There is good in this and if they do embrace life as aliens they will give up any Christian mentality of taking a country back for God and instead realize aliens lose the culture war but wins something much better.  Alien Christians will both realize this world is foreign territory for God’s family and that even movements that share some values with Christians are of this world.  Instead young Alien Christians will become passionate about preparing for their eternal home and showing their friends in this lost world our great alien hope in Christ.

district_9_smallIf we are Christians, we are aliens.  We can pretend we fit into this world or lament that this foreign turf is starting to act like foreign turf but nonetheless we are still aliens and we are supposed to be.  Our young people are already having to make a choice to either conform to the world or embrace life as an alien.  Let’s all young and old embrace our weird green skin and life in exile.  Let’s embrace being aliens so the world can know our other worldly hope.

Taking Back Chief Responsibility

One of the most significant results of the American Homestead Act was the Dust bowl with its extreme poverty many decades later.  The Homestead Act was a Domestic policy and gigantic economic decision made to bring opportunity and independence to those


who had little but a good work ethic but regrettably for many this policy would make their families far worse off then before.    Don’t get me wrong the Homestead Act was a good idea but it was able to so change the landscape of America so quickly that it was literally destroyed at its roots.  The church today is facing a far more serious spiritual dust bowl in which our young people are fading away quicker than any crops during the dust bowl.  Like the Dust Bowl, this drought in our churches has come from our incomplete attempts to solve an issue.  This deadly supposed cure has turned out to be the rise of professionalized children and youth ministry to the neglect of in home discipleship.

It’s easy to forget that children and youth ministry as we know it has only really existed for less than fifty years.  Sure, wonderful programs like Awana go back a century or so and Sunday School can be traced back to 19th century England but for generations these existed more for outreach than for discipleship.  Children and youth ministry began taking sizeable chunks of church budget and office space starting at some point in the 1970s.  These early and intense pushes for a professional ministry targeted at children and youth came with intentions of being a savior.  Youth Group, Children’s Church, and Youth Sunday all came into existence with a shared goal of keeping young people in church and getting new young people to church.  Prior to this recent push local churches rarely made intentional plans to disciple the next generations according to their unique needs.  It’s right to argue children and youth ministry in the church filled a clearly neglected hole.  One would think these new ministries would have solved the problem of churches losing young people but we know now the problem has only gotten much much worse.

Children and youth ministry is a very good and important thing in a church but sadly often it can lead to the neglect of something far more important.  With the rise in church programs for children and youth came a sharp downturn in parents instructing their children spiritually in the home.  Some Christian leaders have actively taught that a parents job is now to drop off not to teach but this neglect of family discipleship is probably more implicated than taught.  When a church has a pastor or director and program for every one of your kids it’s easy to see how one would decide to leave spiritual teaching to the professionals.  Whatever the exact connection is, the church has gained something very good in children and youth programs but lost the far better act of parents teaching the faith in the home.  When pastors and church volunteers began to be the only ones doing what God created parents to mainly do we made the sickness of losing our young people turn into a plague.

God is clear in scripture teaching children and youth is first the responsibility of parents.  I’ve given the arguments more clearly in other articles but look to passages like Deuteronomy and Ephesians 6 and the 78th Psalm.  God intentionally designed the home to be the primary place children and youth are taught the great truths of God.  Parents aren’t professional educators or Bible scholars, but they are one better, they are shepherds God has chosen to guide developing sheep.  Children and youth leaders in the church are important but they can’t do in a decade what a faithful parent can do in a year.  If we as parents don’t reclaim this great task the exodus of young people away from our faith will get worse and our churches will wrongfully decide what’s needed is a new approach to church based discipleship until that one too fails to do what God never intended it to do.

Some argue the only solution to this mess we are in is to abolish all children and youth programs in the church and abandon the age-based discipleship programs of the past few generations.  Clearly if choosing between parent only discipleship and the drop off approach, the home is always the way to go.  This said, I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bath water.  We can have both and if we are dedicated to showing the main role of the parents we should have both.  No matter what programs your church has for our kids and youth lets decide to take back chief responsibility for discipling our own children.  Let’s decide to take up the task God has so clearly first given to us and intentionally instruct the next generations in the things of the Lord over the dinner table or before bed.  Let’s stop treating church programs like a replacement for discipleship in the home and start seeing them as an important ally in raising up Godly young people.  We can actually fight back against the trend of losing our young people by God’s grace and Gospel centered children and youth ministries are important weapons in that war but only when parents are discipling their own children on a regular basis do we have access to the big guns we need to win this.  Praise God our churches now are committed to creating ministries, professions, and events designed to reach young people with both lost and saved backgrounds but lets always let parental discipleship take it’s primary role.

Our Easter Hope for Lost Loved Ones

GJ homerI had front row seats for the best baseball game I have ever seen live.  No, I didn’t pay the ridiculous price for the major league charges for premium seats; I actually was being responsible and paid for cheap seats.  I got this great view because until the bottom of the ninth inning this wasn’t such a great game at all.  I was at a Milwaukee Brewers game in Miller Park and the Brewers were down by almost double digits with their star player still rehabbing an injury.  It wasn’t exactly a premium matchup so Miller Park was fairly empty to begin with but once the 7th inning arrived and a loss seemed all but certain the ball park really started to empty out.  After getting a bratwurst in the beginning of the 9th inning I investigated a little and found the premo seats had been all but vacated so I took a seat up close to watch a boring ending by my best guess.  My holding out on a slight hope proved worthwhile as the Brewers had a wild comeback capped off by a three run walk off home run while most of the fans were already on the freeway home.

We can naturally be a little bit like those hopeless fans that left that game, when a challenge seems insurmountable we can give up and concede defeat.  One area we might especially be tempted to do this in is the eternal salvation of our loved ones.  If our adult parents or siblings have no interest in the Lord or our teenage children are living for themselves we might subconsciously concede things will always be that way.  That hopelessness is in some ways understandable because not only do we know the path of salvation is the narrow path but we know fallen humans all naturally reject the Gospel and can’t accept it on their own.  Some could see the salvation of a lost loved one or friend as even dramatically more unlikely than a last minute comeback by a terrible Brewers club.  Why bother trying to share the good news they want nothing to do with?  Shouldn’t we just beat the traffic and avoid more disappointment?  This season of the year should tell us the answer is a resounding no.

Spring is rightly considered the season of new life.  In the coming weeks the trees will look green again and the chirps of colorful birds will return.  Even more than the Easter period is a celebration of new life and the hope that comes with it.  Early Christians made the egg the symbol of Easter because an egg symbolized the hope that is new life.  Peter wrote his first letter to Christians scattered and oppressed around the Roman kingdom and one of the first things he writes in the letter is an encouraging praise to God who gives all Christians hope and new life through Christ’s resurrection.  1 Peter 1:3 directly links the Resurrection of Christ with true and profound hope.  Early Easter morning Christ’s disciples felt as hopeless as anyone has ever felt before.  They gave up everything to follow Jesus and only five days after arriving in King David’s city their King was given a criminal’s death.  All seemed to be lost and they were ready to leave before traffic got too bad in the parking lot.  Easter morning their doubts were proved wrong as the impossible happened, a man beat the cruel opponent death.  Jesus came back and showed them this kingdom they were hoping for is for greater than they could ever imagine.  The resurrection and the incarnation are the two greatest miracles and we know if the Father can raise the Son from death he can truly do all things.

Easter is our great and glorious hope, it is the hope that saturates all creation and is more vivid each and every day.  Death is dead and the insurmountable is surmountable.  Easter morning brought new unexpected life and that life became contagious and by the Holy Spirit began to spread to all of God’s people in all of history.  There is no stopping the hope of this life; it will make a barren dessert into a lush garden.  This glorious living hope is the very hope that a mother who keeps giving the Gospel to her lost child must cling to.  It is the hope the loving employee who can’t seem to win coworkers to the Lord must remember.  It is the powerful hope that a man has as his lost father lies on his death bed.  God not only can but He will spread this new life to His people when we share the glorious hope of Good Friday and Easter morning with our loved ones.  That hope is real if someone has rejected it once or fifty times and it comes alive in ways we will never know or understand.  We can and must have hope in the power of the Gospel this Easter and we must speak truth to our minds that sometimes struggle to believe the odds will be overcome.

Your salvation started two thousand years ago on a gloomy morning outside Jerusalem.  You were hopeless but that glorious resurrection spread the best hope to you despite all the odds.  This Easter let’s cling to that hope for those we love and spread that glorious message until the day hope is screamed forth in every corner of our galaxy.


Parenting Kids to Love Church

“A church your kids will love!”  I saw this statement in bold large letters on the top of a website of a large attractional church in a Bible belt city.  This was a blatant marchildbible315keting strategy to attract church shoppers and frankly it was pretty smart and probably effective.  The web developer obviously didn’t think children would be analyzing their church sight, no this line was put up on the website to perk the interests of parents.  They wanted to communicate to parents if they come to this church their kids would find church to be exciting and loads of fun unlike the previous church the kids hated.  If a family dealing with kids who hate church transferred to this church their kids would probably have a blast at this church for a few months, maybe even a few years, but chances are when things got settled those kids will hate this church too.  The reason this is the case is these theoretical parents misunderstood why kids come to hate church long term.  Few kids really hate church because it isn’t fun enough or is too boring, or not age appropriate, the real reasons tend to be more big picture focused and often begin in the household.  Mom and dad can largely influence how kids see church and what they get out of it especially at a young age.

Before we go forward to how we help children love the church we need to step back and ask why this even matters.  Is church even really still that important or should we just aspire for our kids to have a detached vague relationship with God?  If we hold a high view of scripture we must see weekly worship service attendance as vital for the next generations.  Hebrews 10:25 commands Christians not to neglect faithfully attending a worship service.  The local church was vitally important in the New Testament.  The writers of the New Testament rarely made a sharp distinction between the local church and God’s global church (all Christians) in fact they used the exact same word to describe both.  This is not because being part of a church was only a facet of being part of God’s church but because the local church is the clearest expression of God’s global church.  The New Testament has no concept of a Christian who didn’t regularly attend intergenerational worship services, the very basis for calling someone a Christian was their active church membership.  Going to church obviously doesn’t save anyone but it is such a basic fruit of salvation that we have no right to label anyone a Christian who lacks desire to faithfully attend worship services.  This is very very important and thus we must pass on a love for the local church if we want the next generation to stand on solid ground.

If church is clearly important and exciting programs aren’t the key to helping kids like church long term, what do we do to help out kids?  First and most importantly we have to convey that church is a positive, glorious, even divine experience.   How we talk with our kids about church is often indicative of their outlook on church.  Several years ago I read D.A. Carson’s biography of his father a long time small church pastor.  The churches Dr. Carson’s father pastured were often extremely unhealthy and they frequently brought Pastor Tom Carson and his wife a great deal of pain but D.A. Carson and his siblings knew none of this as children.  Dr. Carson’s parents only spoke positively of their churches and their members while their children were in the home and as a result the kids loved their church community even through its lack of health.  We need to be careful not to criticize church members, church ministries, and especially church leaders around our children.  If we convey dissatisfaction with the church we shouldn’t be surprised when they are dissatisfied with the church.  On the flip side when our kids come to us complaining about this or that in the church we do well to redirect our children to redirect them to the beauties of the church more than we provide a sympathetic ear.  This is especially relevant to how we speak of “big church.”  I’m thankful for good children’s programs that prepare kids for the big church but we need to always project a positive image of big church even more so than these children’s programs.  If we portray big church as the amazing work of the Holy Spirit it well certainly have a more positive impact on our kids’ outlook than calling it adult church or informing them it’s not relevant to their lives.  If we struggle deeply to present the amazing eternal work of God in the local church in a positive light to your kids perhaps we need to correct our own hearts and inner consumerism first.  If the negativity you harbor comes from overtly unbiblical practices in the church structure maybe for the sake of your child’s outlook on church you need to find a healthy church.  No matter what we need to find ways to show our kids the amazing work of God in the local church at every opportunity, especially on the drive to church.

Another way we give our kids a positive image of the local church is to bring church home.  Is it any surprise one of the best ways to keep our kids from seeing church as a strange experience is to have a similar experience during the week?  Family worship models corporate worship at home for the whole family and makes the vital elements of a worship service part of our regular routine.  In many ways humble family worship builds up anticipation for the big deal of corporate worship together with our bigger church family.  Family worship likewise provides opportunities to reinforce the importance and message of church.  We can use family worship time to talk about how the sermon impacts our lives or review the children’s lessons in an affirming manner.  We can sing the worship set list the Saturday evening before church and teach the doctrinal truths the whole church will say together.  Family worship can be a means by which we make the worship service the focal point of our week.

None of these things will guarantee the next Sunday our child won’t tell us church was “stupid” or that in twenty years our child won’t detest organized religion.  You can’t guarantee a heart change; we don’t need to be in the business of playing God.  Nevertheless if we commit to give our kids an amazing vision of the church by God’s grace I think often can see any church become “a church your kids will love.”