I just started reading Dreaming of More For the Next Generation by Michelle Anthony. One chapter in, I am already impressed with the biblical foundation she lays for a family ministry paradigm. The end of the first chapter she invites readers to “reflect,” “respond,” and “dream” about what how might want to awaken us to more in our lives personally and in ministry to children and their families.
Here are a few of my thoughts.
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
We are asked to describe our current wineskin. What a great question! From a family ministry perspective, I would describe our ministry to children and families as “Family Friendly.” The children and youth programs function independently but create opportunities for parents to get involved on some level. The discipleship of children is important and parents are viewed as having a crucial role but they must rely heavily on the programs provided. Little is done outside of the youth and children’s ministry to equip them to be more spiritually focused in their child-rearing.
In my six years working in children’s ministry this model has been a source of frustration at times. I think many times churches want to hire children’s ministers to oversee children’s programs and give a head-nod to the role of parents but are satisfied if mediocre content is taught by volunteers whose arms may have been twisted into plugging a hole on Sunday morning. This has not been the case in every classroom of my ministry career but in praxis has been the general result of the ministry as a whole when not everyone is on the same page regarding what successful children & family ministry looks like. The resulting fruit is families who are not only unequipped by their church family but even hindered in their ability because “spiritual formation is best left to the experts.” In the lives of children, fruit is measured in terms of ministry event attendance and levels of Bible knowledge and skill. We might even pat ourselves on the back if we feel that their Bible class attendance and knowledge of scripture affects the child’s behavior, though none of these provide an accurate measure of faith.
When we are faced with the choice to change the system, lay down our old wineskin in exchange for a new one, we panic or circle the wagons. We worry that without the old wineskins our children will not know the Bible. We become concerned that if children aren’t attending our program, they might not be spiritually formed anywhere. We place on a pedestal our old wineskin and claim that it worked for me when I was a kid without considering that the Spirit knew just what we needed at that time. Now, perhaps the Spirit is choosing for the growing generation a different vintage. The Spirit wants to pour out a new wine but our old wineskins can’t handle it. They will simply burst.
What if we were willing to create (or allow ourselves to be created into) a vessel worthy of the sweet wine the Spirit was ready to pour out? What would ministry to children and families look like that did this? Right now, I don’t know. But I do know that if the Spirit was being poured out and we had allowed ourselves to become a wineskin worthy of receiving him, we would be measuring success in terms of how well we cultivate an atmosphere where parents are primary.
What would your ministry look like if God were pouring out new wine on it?
“This only have I found: God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes.” Written by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:29
If we do not begin at a place where, from the very start, all God saw in us was perfection we are doomed to always see ourselves as not good enough. Because “God created mankind upright,” He sees in us something that we rarely see in ourselves. That in our core we were made to be in perfect fellowship with Him.
Sadly, we go looking for ways to make life “better” for ourselves without realizing all our efforts are in vain.
Life is never better than when we see ourselves as God made us and take joy in being nothing more.
The many schemes we devise to become enough in the eyes of the world simply lead to our destruction. Its only when we surrender our search for more that we find the one truth Solomon was able realize –
God made you good.
Our preacher at Wellspring, Andy Hudelson, encouraged us to participate in a Bible reading plan this year. He shared a strategy from Wayne Coreiro’s book Divine Mentor in which you basically allow the writers of the Bible to become your mentor for 30 minutes a day. Andy encouraged those at Wellspring to journal about their thoughts on our Church’s community website. Below is what I shared there on today’s passage, Matthew 6-10.
Today’s reading had me dwelling on Matthew 6:33. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I used to think that this was some sort of system that would get me anything I wanted. Chapter 7:7-9 would serve as further confirmation to me that if I wanted something, I just had to ask. As I have grown in my walk with Christ, I have learned not to gloss over the important parts like, “Seek FIRST his kingdom.” It’s amazing how when we are putting kingdom needs first how unimportant the things we typically ask for really are.
The chapters for todays reading reflect this kingdom perspective in ways that are really difficult for me sometimes. I can often be a judgemental worrier who would rather walk the broad road to build my house on the sand. Seeking first his kingdom centers me. It forces me to ask if my will is aligned with God’s will and if it is not, I probably need to stop the asking and get centered on Jesus.
The cost of this is not going to put me in comfortable places. In chapter 10, verse 17 Jesus tells his disciples, “Be on your guard; you WILL be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.” Jesus does not paint a pretty picture of the cost of discipleship but in the end He offers this encouragement, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (Mt. 10:40)” Jesus wants his disciples to have a kingdom perspective and to seek first His kingdom. I believe the reward that Jesus has to offer here is contentment in believing that following him is the best way to live. Christlikeness is the reward of seeking first his kingdom.
A psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
he leads me beside quiet waters,
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
When I was a kid, the church we went to had a huge tapestry in the foyer. Depicted on it was a pasture with nearly a hundred shades of green. Etched around the edges was this psalm of David. Passing by this every Sunday morning, evening and Wednesday night numbed me to it’s beauty and the power it’s words have for life. I can’t say that I have ever heard a sermon preached on it. I don’t think it was ever one of my required memory verses. I have recently come back to this neglected verse and it has become a source of strength for me.
God is always doing one better. It is not enough for God that he provides physical nourishment with green pastures – he restores my soul. The journey he is taking me on wanders deeper than beside quiet waters – he guides me in paths of righteousness. The darkest evils are ignored when we realize his presence is greater, his rod and staff mightier and his comfort so assuring that we can feast at his table right in front of our enemies. When God anoints with oil…
Abiding in him, love and goodness follow.
This is where I want to serve from. What would happen in my family if I lived in the 23rd Psalm. How would the ministry God has given me be affected if it is out of the overflow of what he is doing in my life? If I were walking in paths of righteousness for HIS namesake instead of mine, what would look different?
The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want … but to follow.