I am not extravagantly rich. I am not pitifully poor. And I have never had a day go by where I wasn’t able to put food on my family’s table, clothes on my children’s backs, and keep the insulated walls of our house around us. This is the blessing of God. As a youth pastor, I don’t get paid hardly anything. This is not the career path of the wealthy. But I have been able to see God provide just what I need right when I need it over and over again. There have been times when checks randomly show up in my mailbox. There have been times when my kids were babies that people brought us meals, mowed our lawn, and gave us diapers. I’ve been on cruises. I drive a Lexus. I own nice things. But not because I crave wealth, status, and prosperity. It’s simply because I finally learned how to trust God with my money. He has my heart in this area. And He has blessed me time and again. Would I like to be able to just decide to go to Disneyworld? Yeah. Would I Like to be able to just decide to head to the Bahamas? Yeah. But I’m chasing after God. And if he wants to bless me with something like that, cool. If not, cool. And that’s what I hope your perspective about wealth & poverty starts to move towards as a result of our time together this morning.
We’re going to be closing out the school year in the KirkYouth Mid-High with a 6-part series about investing in the kingdom of God. It all kicks off on Wednesday, April 23rd (following the Wed./Sun./Wed… pattern).
Part 1: Working With Purpose
Part 2: Living On Purpose
Part 3: Giving On Purpose
Part 4: Investing With Purpose
Part 5: Kingdom Purpose
Part 6: Resting On Purpose
David Platt argues against the phenomenon of the “Heaven Is For Real” craze in a way that I fully agree with but have never been able to articulate as clearly. Take a listen:
So the Bible has a lot to say about the motif of family in the New Testament church.
- “Love one another with brotherly affection (Rom. 12:10)”
- “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God (1 John 3:1)”
- “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity (1 Tim. 5:1-2),” etc.
What happens if we extend that motif into the specific areas where churches seek to do ministry?
Ministry to Adults // The Firstborn
The firstborn child gets all the attention, care, and concern…until they are no longer the only child. Think about it (if you have more than one kid): first child drops a pacifier on the ground. We grab it before the five-second rule expires, plunk it in a sink filled with 50% bleach and 50% scalding hot water. THEN we microwave it in a sterilizing pouch. Then we rinse it off with cold water. Then we give it back, with an eagle-eyed focus for the rest of the day. If the second kid drops it at the playground we wipe it on our shirt and go about our merry way.
Churches can be overly cautious around their ministry to adults because the firstborn, though privileged, has a perception of being neglected. These are the givers (privileged) in the church, but we are “always” changing things on them. Try switching from coffee pots to Keurigs and the angst of the firstborn’s neglect is palpable.
We try to give them what they want but they complain that they never get what they want. Once there’s a perception that we don’t care (because we renamed the newsletter or started texting instead of emailing), churches may try to make up for it, but then we’re stuck in the “I want you to want to” sentiment and the firstborn turns on the TV in the basement for the rest of the afternoon.
Young Adults/College Ministry // The Middle Child
The young adult is often overlooked: no special treatment like the firstborn because “hey, we’re good at this now, you’ll be fine if I don’t sterilize your binky” and they got no special attention like the baby because “been there done that.”
A friend of mine had this to say about the idea of young adult ministry as the middle child:
“Typically, middle children have less of a connection with their families because of a lack of attention; they’re used to just doing their own thing. So the relationships they value most are typically friendships, the relationships they can choose. Similarly, young adults, particularly post-grads, are usually in a new town where the church they attend is entirely their choice. Their choice isn’t particularly influenced by family association but rather on the church alone, and because of this, they usually have no problem moving somewhere they like better.”
So while churches are focused on keeping the firstborn and the baby happy, the middle child is forgotten and becomes generally disgruntled. They don’t give (much) but they can contribute (much). We can’t wait around for them to mature, because then we’ve lost influence, both ours and theirs. The middle child is the one that wants to go to school out of state (read: try churches they like better) because they want to be seen and seen as important.
Children’s Ministry // The Baby
I’m the baby of my family. The babies get LOTS of attention, in theory and in reality. How many dollars and man hours go into a week of VBS? If a church plants a new campus/site, who are they primarily going after? Families (the firstborn) with young children (the baby). I wish we could see more targeting the middle child, but this about the baby. Let’s not get distracted.
The baby gets whatever they want. I’ve been accused of this by one of my two older siblings…who shall remain nameless. But there’s so much promise with the baby of the family! Just look at the stats! How many people can trace their salvation back to their time in children’s ministry? I can.
Children’s ministries often have the nicest facilities in the church, the most volunteers, and the easiest budget proposal meetings. I was recently at a church in Dallas where the focus is definitely on the baby of the family. When you walk in *bam* there’s a huge salt water fish tank, check in computers, a multi-level plastic playground with nets, and slides, and tubes, all enclosed in glass. There was a mall quality, squishy floor play space with turtles and bunnies to climb on. The rooms were immaculate, the art was modern, the paint colors were spot on, the signage was great. Everything was awesome.
Turn the corner.
Everything’s brown. The furniture is neutral. The carpet is neutral.
Walk down a blank hall.
The lights are dimmer. The paint is cheaper. The equipment is from craigslist. The carpet is tearing. The signage pops up. You’re at the youth area in the farthest corner of the building from the door.
BONUS: Youth Ministry // The Cousin From Out-Of-State
The cousin from out-of-state has some of the cool, new, stuff, is a little “off” from the rest of the family, and still has to sit at the kids’ table.
If you can get past ye Olde Englifh, you can find a fantastic similarity between Bunyan’s opinion of Christianity and contemporary thought (that is, before encountering grace). I related to much of what Bunyan encountered in his soul and in his mind. I continually found myself marveling at how not much has changed in 400 years about 1) what people think about Jesus and 2) how Jesus calls people home. It is very difficult to read because of the nature of the language, and at times the woe seemed hyperbolic. But the transparency and the theology are fantastic. “Grace Abounding…” is short enough to be worth the challenge.
Growing up there were so many things my parents asked me to do that I would just drag me feet on. When we’d go the lake on vacation, my dad wanted me to help him do yard work. My response? “I’m on vacation!” There was a task I HATED when I was a teenager, too: my dad would cut off dead tree limbs and have me cut those down into 1” lengths to throw away. He said it’s so they’d fit in the trashcan. I now realize he was trying to teach me discipline. And that’s what Solomon is trying to get us to see. The sluggard, the slothful, the lazy doesn’t have to be who you are! You don’t have to be plopped down in front of Netflix all weekend. Your only social interaction doesn’t have to be confined to the world of Minecraft. You don’t have to be really good at finding loopholes and really bad at knowing how to start a lawnmower. Your life was meant for so much more! You were called to move with Jesus into a great adventure of ministry. You can’t do that if you fall asleep in your Cheerios. There is nothing admirable about being lazy. And if that is your badge of honor, it’s time to consider that God created you to do and to be so much more. Wake up. No more excuses. It’s time to join Jesus on this great adventure of life that he has planned for you and get moving.
One of the things we like to say around here is “Soft words make hard hearts. Hard words make soft hearts.” Good words are meant to affect the heart of a person. If they are timely, we hear words of life right when need to hear them. If they are loving, even if they’re hard they’re still good to hear. If they are encouraging, it can literally change our lives. The way we speak to each other matters because the way we get talked down to in so many other situations is defeating. We get beat up by bad words and bad messages all the time at home, at school, not living up to what’s on TV, etc. But when you come to KirkYouth, this should be a place you not only HEAR good words, but also SPEAK them. Jesus is alive, therefore his church is alive, therefore we speak words of life. To be wise, speak life.