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Posts from May 2022

When Parents/Guardians Are Equipped to Lead Their Children Biblically

Years ago our church made a shift in how we approached age-graded ministry. It is not that what we were doing was bad or sinful, but our convictions revealed that a change was right.

We began shifting from a family-based ministry strategy to a family-equipping strategy. The big differentiator is that within the family-based model the church provides age-focused ministries for everyone and ultimately separates many family members when gathered together for Bible study or worship. This is not necessarily wrong as many like me, grew up in churches that implemented this strategy. The downside is that parents and guardians are rarely strategically led to be the lead disciple-makers of the children within their home. The default is to basically outsource that biblical process to the teachers and leaders of the local church (e.g. Sunday school teachers, youth ministers, children's directors, etc.)

The family-equipping model seeks to come alongside parents and guardians with the intent to lead and enable them to be the lead disciple-makers in their homes. They are then equipped to lead home worship, Bible studies with their family members, and ultimately to be able to share the fullness of the gospel message with those within their homes. Of course, there are families where parents or guardians are not believers and the members of the church then fill that gap, but otherwise, we come alongside parents in this role rather than usurping it completely.

We knew it would be a long transition and this morning I received an email from a former church member who has relocated to another state. While he and his wife were in our church they were blessed with a son and as is the case in many churches we had a parent-child dedication service for them. We began shifting that recognition as well years ago. We now require parents to attend a class that explains the importance of raising their children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord." Then, rather than have a child dedication, we truly have a parent dedication before the church family. It is a special time.

One thing that I present to the family that day, besides a Bible, a book for parents, and a certificate (these are traditional gifts, but good and we believe important) is a letter. This letter is in a sealed envelope and has the child's name printed on the front. The letter is written by me to the child and is intended to be saved until that day when the child surrenders his or her life to Christ as Savior. We are praying for this child to become a Christian and that is part of the church's commitment to the parents.

This morning I received the email from Jay regarding his son's recent surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord. He gave me permission to share it here:

Pastor David, 

It has been a while since we last spoke. I hope this email finds you well!
 
I am writing you to share the most wonderful news that Jennifer and I were able to have conversations with our son Cooper about Christ and his sacrifice for us and what it means to have a relationship with him eternally. Cooper then asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. 
 
I want to thank you so much for your leadership at FBCOP (First Baptist Church of Orange Park,) for without that, and the meticulous family equipping model, I don’t think I would have been able to talk with Cooper like that. The intentionality of that model equipped Jen and I to feel confident to share our testimony and help lead Cooper to Christ. (This happened on my birthday, I don’t think I’ll ever get such a wonderful present!)
 
I know we have moved from the area, and probably will not ever be back in the North Florida area again (we are loving the small town Muskogee, Oklahoma life!), but I will forever be grateful for your leadership, because I can now call my son Cooper my brother-in-Christ! 
 
Tonight we showed him the letter you wrote to him when we dedicated him in 2013. It was so special to us and to him, and he was able to see the full circle of dedication to salvation. 
 
I thought I would share with you some pictures of our special day. 
 
I will always continue to pray for you and FBCOP. God is so good!  
 
Jay Fuller
Cooper fuller copy
Photo by Jay & Jen Fuller

This email did find me well, to say the least. I was overjoyed to read this and to see the pictures of Cooper. I am so impressed that Jay and Jen were able to keep that sealed letter this long (I guess I'm saying, I would have misplaced it by now.) Nonetheless, this is amazing and while it took years for this process in Cooper's life to come to fruition, I am so thankful that his parents were able to have these very important spiritual conversations with him. This is why we shifted to a family-equipping model. Mom and dad did not have to call the pastor at the church to have this vital conversation with their son. They were equipped by God to do so and I believe based on what Jay wrote, our church played a small role in that.

The Fullers are active members at First Baptist Church of Muskogee, Oklahoma where Kevin Chartney serves as Lead Pastor. I am thankful for faithful, gospel-centered churches like this where we can be confident our former church family members are able to join and serve when relocating to a new home.


Dave Paxton's List - "101 Things In Student Ministry (To Do & Not Do)"

On Monday we gathered to remember the life of our dear brother and long-time minister of the gospel Dave Paxton. Dave had served over forty-years in student ministry in churches from Tennessee, Texas, and Florida. Over the years he impacted thousands of students and adults for the sake of Christ and he is dearly missed. A few years back he told me about one of the conferences he led at the Conclave in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This annual conference for student pastors draws thousands and Dave's breakout titled "101 Things in Student Ministry (To Do & Not Do)" always filled the room. 

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He shared this list with me. Of the items on the list, he experienced many of them, but a few were collected from other student pastors over the years. What I do know is that each is true and not just a made up illustration. And...as you read them, you too may be saying "I want to know the story behind that one." Sorry, I don't know the stories, but i do have the list. Enjoy.

  1. Love students. Work to build an atmosphere where students love one another, their families and those in need.
  2. Contact students. Contact students on a weekly basis. Seek ways to do this.
  3. Live expecting God to work supernaturally within the students and yourself—fulfilling God's vision for the community.
  4. Know Christ. Invite every student into a personal and transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.
  5. No animals/pets/reptiles may be brought along or purchased on trips.
  6. It does not matter how great a communicator you are or how awesome you are at hanging out with kids, if you cannot administrate the daily needs of the ministry. If you cannot do these administrative tasks parents will not trust or respect you to take care of their students.
  7. Do not just randomly show up for a prepackaged summer camp without first being sure that you have the dates correct.  (A youth minister in our area arrived at BigStuf in Panama City Beach with his students on a bus. The camp staff stepped on the bus to welcome them searching for their church name. They could not find the church name on their list. The youth pastor made a joke saying "Wouldn't it be funny if we are here the wrong week." They checked the camp database. Sure enough, they were scheduled for following week. BigStuf worked it out. Fortunately for the youth pastor.)
  8. Never talk about church members to other church members unless you know them well.  You never know who is related or good friends.
  9. Be careful about contacting parents about a student’s choices or lifestyle.  Have a rule of thumb and use much discernment and wisdom in knowing how to proceed.  Do what is responsible...but maintain ministry options with the student if possible.  (Some new guys are too quick to overreact - I was.)
  10. Never host a Christian rap group for a bunch of white, preppy, rich kids.  It just does not work.
  11. Bad volunteers are hard to get rid of.  It is better to take the time and make sure you have the right person for the job on the front end.  It is easier to have never enlisted them than to have to "fire" them later.
  12. Don't just show love to and befriend the popular kids.  Do what no one else is doing and reach out to those who are tough to love!
  13. Don't mess with the pastor's kids...just let it go.
  14. On trips–Don’t ever allow girls and guys in rooms together...anywhere, anytime.
  15. Always be sure that you have checked out the people involved with you and your ministry. No exceptions.
  16. Plan ahead….far enough ahead to get the word out. Last minute stuff usually stinks.
  17. Once you set a ground rule for trips….don’t blink!
  18. Never be alone with a student, use the two adult rule.
  19. Never punch a student in the face in front of a deacon.
  20. You teach what you know but you reproduce who you are.
  21. Be sure the work you are doing for God is not hindering the work of God within you.
  22. People are more important than programs. Remember the value of relationships.
  23. Treat youth with respect and kindness. Someday they will be adults, who are treating youth the way you do.
  24. Take a serious approach to your ministry, but not to yourself.
  25. Cultivate flexibility and a willingness to change. Avoid the “concrete syndrome”.
  26. Be Patient. God can use time, people, and new beginnings to cure a lot of ills.
  27. Take care of yourself and your family or risk losing your ability to minister to others.
  28. Invest in a support group because you will need to make a withdrawal when times get tough.
  29. Care for and affirm your adult workers. They will stay with you longer.
  30. Equip youth and adults to take ownership of the youth ministry. Use the “BEST” approach to developing leaders.
  31. B - BELIEVE in them
  32. E - ENCOURAGE them
  33. S - SHARE with them
  34. T - TRUST them
  35. Make yourself more available and approachable.
  36. Spend more time nurturing and supporting Sunday School.
  37. Pay more attention to parents of youth.
  38. Devise strategies for enabling youth and adults to take ownership of the youth ministry.
  39. Avoid requiring volunteers to do anything. Instead, ask them to make a commitment to a set of expectations.
  40. Invest more time in equipping adults to equip youth to reach, teach, care for, and minister to their peers.
  41. Learn to care for, instead of ignoring or getting rid of troublesome people.
  42. Deacons are not your enemy. Be careful about jokes pointed their way. Develop positive relationships with them.
  43. Senior adults can be a major support group. Set an example of showing love to senior adults. You will be one someday. Oh…and by the way……they have a lot of scholarship money available for students. Enough of the “Blue Hair” jokes.
  44. If you cannot fully support your pastor, get out.
  45. Have frequent meetings with the pastor.
  46. It is YOUR job to communicate with the church your successes and goals. Teach the church to respond to kids who don’t look like the rest of the church.
  47. Parents are the number one influencers in the faith development of a teenager. It is not your job to disciple them, but to equip parents.
  48. Don’t expect what you don’t inspect.
  49. "Whatever else you do, if you do not take kids to the cross frequently, nothing else matters." - Dawson McAllister
  50. Ignore your baptism numbers and they will decline.
  51. Connect with a local network of youth ministers, even if you get nothing personally from the relationships.
  52. You are not the hottest thing on the block and the former guy was probably not a ditz. Not everything he did needs to be done away with. Build on it.
  53. Insecurity is a very poor motivator and a terrible way to run a ministry.
  54. Old guys in ministry made a lot of mistakes before you came on the scene. Learn from them.
  55. The five “W’s” (who, what, where, when, and why) are important on every advertisement. Remember them. Too many flyers with inadequate information are sent out every week by student ministries. It makes you look stupid.
  56. Do not accept cash or registrations from students. Have a drop box. One of our staff lost a student’s registration in his own pocket.
  57. Clearly communicate expectations to parents and workers.
  58. Too many rules create a legalistic ministry. Too few create one that is out of control.
  59. Trust is a wonderful thing. Set proper boundaries, but operate on a beginning of trust. Students respect that.
  60. Have medical consent forms on file for any out-of-town trip.
  61. Hall walkers (adults who do little else) at youth camp allow you and the volunteer staff to head to bed at the end of the day at camp. They free you up to get much needed rest and help assure volunteers for next year. Hall walkers get everyone in bed, and make sure they are up the next morning. They sleep during the day.
  62. If you can let someone else drive, do it. Spending time with students is more important than driving.
  63. Don’t assume anything on contracts with bus companies or retreat facilities.
  64. Be careful with a cash drop in the sanctuary. Kids will kill each other to grab a dollar bill.
  65. Always proofread everything.  There is a difference between Proverbs 3:5-6 and Philippians 3:5-6.  (the latter was proudly displayed on a t-shirt for one of my D-Now weekends)
  66. Do not keep the pastor in the dark about youth events.
  67. Do not serve chili dogs early in a lock-in.
  68. Carefully word your announcements when you get the microphone in big church.  “The big girls retreat” is not as effective as “the girls retreat for everyone.”
  69. Do not try to be someone you are not, in order to “fit in” to the youth culture.
  70. Do not discipline the whole group when it is just a few who are at fault.
  71. Do not speed in a church van.
  72. Do not speed in your own car with students on board.
  73. Never watch a rated R movie with a student, even if it is only rated R for violence.
  74. Do not get naked with the kids, even as a joke.
  75. Do not cuss in front of the kids no matter how bad you mashed your finger or stumped your toe.
  76. Never reserve spots for kids for a camp or retreat without payment in advance. People who don't pay, don't show!
  77. No matter how much they loved, trusted and respected your integrity and abilities at your last church, none of that is transferable. You start from scratch at a new church. (Hard lesson)
  78. When a student asks you to pray for them, do it then! Take their hands, standing in the middle of the hallway and pray. An immediate response shows you care, and too many adults say “I’ll pray for you,” yet never do.
  79. Don’t allow coed seating on long bus trips – especially on long bus trips during the evening hours. And spread your leaders out on the bus.
  80. Going along with the above, don’t think just because they are a minister’s son on your staff that they can be trusted. I caught one of our minister’s sons making out with a girl at about 3AM one morning on the bus.
  81. While at camp, if rooms have fire extinguishers, do not forget to make an explicit rule that they are not to be messed with or used unless a fire actually exists.
  82. Going along with the above, once again, don’t think just because a student is a minister’s son on your staff that they can be trusted. One of our minister’s sons and some of the boys from another room decided to have a fire extinguisher fight in their room.
  83. While on a student trip and you are running low on gas, don’t think that you can make it to the next gas station. Stop while you can. Five minutes invested can save an hour on the side of the road.
  84. Do not just take any sponsor that wants to go with you on a trip. Pick and choose your sponsors carefully and with great wisdom.
  85. Do not ever be shocked at what you may see or have to deal with while at camp or any other student outing. And don’t let it flavor the entire event.
  86. Do not ever forget that what you are doing matters and does make a difference in young people’s lives.
  87. Do not make promises to students that you cannot or will not keep. They never forget.
  88. Do not be so quick to think the grass is greener somewhere else. There is great blessing and satisfaction in longevity in student ministry at one place. I am celebrating my tenth year this month at our church and it has been a huge blessing to see students who have come through our ministry and grow into some of the godliest young adults I know.
  89. You cannot take the credit or the blame for student ministry until you have been there more than three years.
  90. When you first go to a church, there will be some upperclassmen who may never follow your vision. They are still mad the last guy bailed out on them (their perspective.) Love them anyway. You may win a few, but for some, you will just have to outlast them. 
  91. Do not become a full time minster and a part time follower of Christ.
  92. Do not send out a poll to get information. They always come back split.
  93. Do not believe that everyone is against you just because you have a few loud complainers.
  94. Do not believe everything your biggest fans have to say about you.
  95. Do not speak badly about the person who had the position before you. Build a relationship with him. He can become a great friend and resource.
  96. Do not forget to celebrate with your volunteers and staff.
  97. Know that if you are leading well not everyone is going to like you.
  98. Do not let your boss be caught off guard by an issue or problem in your ministry.
  99. Do not give up your day off.
  100. Do not forget to date your spouse.
  101. Do not finalize your youth calendar unless your wife approves it.

Wise words from a wise man.

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. - Proverbs 19:20


Talking Honestly & Biblically with Children About Death

When death impacts our families the forced reality of explaining the feelings, emotions, and reality of death with children moves to the forefront for many. Those who do not have decades of life experience have many questions and often they go to their parents, older siblings, grandparents, or other trusted adult for answers.

But what do you say?

How do you talk about death with a child? What should you say? What should you not say? How can you soften the blow? Should you talk about it all?

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These and other questions often come up and to be honest, how we talk to children about death is insight as to how we deal with it ourselves as adults.

There are numerous resources available and dozens of websites with good insight. Many say similar things and some give great advice. I am writing this article specifically because our church family is reeling through the very real grief of the death of our recently retired associate pastor Dave Paxton. Dave was killed in a motorcycle accident earlier this week and while retired from full-time ministry at our church, he continued to serve students and children here. His connection with children in our Wednesday evening programming where he planned games and activities has left many children asking their parents to tell them what happened to "Mr. Dave." 

We actually canceled our mid-week gathering this week to enable parents and leaders to process better their own grief (not that they are over the death at all) to better be able to talk with their children.

We will be collectively grieving for some time and individuals will be as well at different rates and in different ways. But regarding the kids, here are some of the points I think need to be addressed when parents and leaders seek to discuss death with them.

Be Clear and Specific

Sometimes when we talk with children we tend to use euphemisms like passed away, gone home, transitioned, passed on, and more. Many do this when talking to adults as well. In fact, I had an adult tell me they did not want me to talk of their loved one dying, but to say he passed away. This is confusing for children and can be unhealthy for adults who often appear to be doing anything they can to avoid addressing the reality of death. The Bible speaks of death clearly. How we discuss death impacts how we understand life, the life offered through Christ that is abundant, free, and eternal. So, be specific and use the words death, died, and dying. 

Be Brief

Don't answer the question not asked and do not fall into the trap of long exposition when a simple, clear, brief answer is sufficient. Lori Wildenberg mentions the need to be concise especially if a loved one dies after being ill. Do not simply say "He died because he was sick" or you may unintentionally lead the child to fear that he will die when he gets a sore throat. Lori says "If the person was sick say, 'She was really BIG sick. Not regular sick (sore throat, flu, cold).' If the death was due to disease, name it. 'She had a disease called cancer. The cancer made her body BIG sick, not regular sick.'"

Prepare Your Child for the Funeral

If you bring your children to the funeral, and if it is a funeral with a casket, prepare them for what they will be seeing. Say something like "When we get to the church or funeral home you will hear people crying. You may hear some laughing, too. You will hear a lot. You will also see [loved one] in a box. That's a casket. It will look like she is asleep, but she's not. We will sit and the pastor will speak and we will either sing or hear songs. We will talk about God and about [loved one] and share some great stories together remembering how much we loved her." Of course, the details may be different, but preparation can help much and can help you when you are being inundated with questions from your child about all that is happening. 

Lightstock_262465_medium_david_tarkingtonMost people do not attend funerals often and so preparing your child for what is to come will help them process what they are seeing and hearing. Children at different ages will process the entire event differently. Know your child and talk plainly. Be prepared for questions and tell him you will talk more after the service. 

Should you take your child to the funeral? 

I've been asked this often and it is a great question. Parents are concerned about what their child can handle. For very young children (preschoolers and younger) they likely will not understand nor remember much of what is happening. I personally believe that school-aged children should attend, but each parent knows their children well. 

Your Grief Can Help Your Child Grieve

You don't have to run to another room to cry just because you don't want your child to see you being human. You likely have questions. You may be dealing with deep areas of grief. Your child is not your counselor, so do not lean into making them codependent. However, when you are crying because of the death of a loved one, cry. Let them see you cry as that will eliminate some of the lies our culture propagates about who can cry, who cannot, and how we must grieve. 

Your child will likely be experiencing grief as well and they may have feelings and questions that come to mind that from a child's perspective make sense, but you know are not true. They may feel confusion or even guilt or fear about death. Sometime a child will blame themselves. "Maybe I caused [loved one's] death?" You can address those fears and questions honestly. Talk with your child about their emotions. It is best if you don't seek to numb yourself by hiding your feelings but talk honestly about how they are feeling.

Children Process Grief Differently

I do not mean they process differently than adults, which likely they do. I mean that children process grief differently from each other. You may have more than one child and one may be responding with questions, being more talkative than normal, crying for long periods while the other may seem silent and stoic. God wires each of uniquely in his image and for His glory and while your children may share DNA or be raised by the same parents, they are not clones. Respect and recognize this. Sadly, I have no "Do this and everything is good" instructions, but being aware is a wise start.

Tell Them the Truth

Christ said "Let the little children come to me" and our faith conversations should not wait until our children are in high school. Talk about God's perfect plan and about how sin entered the story. Share how death was not in God's plan but is a result of sin. But don't stop there. Share about our great God's love for us and his plan for rescue. Your children may not be processing all that God is doing in this, but trust God who loves your children more than you do to give you the words they need to hear. Trust Him to speak to them well and lovingly. Just tell the truth and do so in love.

You Don't Have To Have All The Answers

Your child may ask "Why?" a lot when discussing the death of a loved one. You may not have an easy answer to the why questions. Don't pressure yourself to have the answers. Sometimes you just have to be honest and say "I don't know." Yet, as a Christian, be sure to state that you trust God to help.

Maturation

I found these descriptions on a Hospice website and while the site is not Christian in nature, the developmental information for children and grief may be helpful. Nevertheless, understand the unique bent of each child and realize that these descriptors may vary. Here are the points made.

INFANTS can grasp that the adults in their life are sad or angry, but cannot understand the concept of death. 

PRESCHOOLERS may see death as a reversible, non-permanent event and may invent magical theories as to what causes death and what is related to the dying process.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN understand the permanence of death and understand the correlation of events that lead to someone's dying. However, death is often perceived as an event that solely happens to other people.

MIDDLE SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN have a full understanding of the physical aspects of death and its finality; however, some abstract concepts surrounding death and dying may be beyond their reach.

HIGH SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN have a full understanding of death and dying, its finality, and the impact of a death on the lives of themselves and others.

God sees you. He knows your suffering. He understands your pain. He loves you and he loves your children. Don't shirk the responsibility of talking about the reality of death. May that talk lead you to a deeper discussion of what life truly is.