What if I told you the Wizard wasn't so magical at first?
John Wooden's first 15 years at UCLA had a combined record of 285-125. Sounds respectable right? It's a winning percentage of 69.5%. But over the next 12 years, his record was 335-22, winning 93.8% of their games, 88 in a row, 10 national championships, and finishing undefeated 4 times.
Pretty astounding isn't it?
Here's my hot take: if John Wooden was coaching today, he'd have been fired by year 5.
We'd never have gotten the Pyramid of Success, we'd never connect the names Walton & Alcindor. And for all of us who grew up Louisville fans, we'd never have hired a UCLA assistant named Denny Crum.
The question I keep thinking about is, how many churches and pastors miss out on immeasurable blessings because they didn't stay the course? UCLA patiently built a dynasty, famously by Coach Wooden first showing players how to tie their shoes and put on socks. But when we live in the microwave culture, if you don't turn things around within a couple years you're a failure (look at the body count of coaches left in the SEC with Saban).
I'm incredibly indebted to my friend Sam Rainer and the work of the Revitalize Network. I'm looking forward to being a part of their conference next year and learning from pastors and leaders in other churches looking to make the turnaround. My belief is that most pastors in struggling churches aren't content to simply exist.
Turnaround Churches are Led by Pastors Who Stay - Let's be honest, pastoring is hard. It's harder when it doesn't seem like anything is working. It's harder when giving is down, when attendance numbers aren't what "they used to be," and it's hard when you wonder if your family or your sanity can take it much longer. But a church that's going to make the turn is going to have to be led by someone who will stay. I'm not saying a lifetime. But when people say it takes 4-5 years to even start to make significant inroads, you can't be surprised churches are in the decline when pastors bolt every 3 years.
Turnaround Churches are Fed the Word Faithfully - When asked about the Reformation, Martin Luther's response was "The Word did the work!" The same thing happens in a church that makes the turn. They've been fed, regularly, the Word. They're fed faithfully, consistently, and joyfully. Their worldview is shaped and formed by the Bible. Their faith is informed. Their souls are encouraged. Their witness is emboldened. Sermonettes can't do that. It's like a diet of cotton candy. Sounds nice but it won't nourish. Hey pastor, keep plodding.
Turnaround Churches are Committed to Outreach - Churches who want to make the turn are committed to reaching out into their community. When churches and pastors take an adversarial approach to their community (an "Us vs. Them" mentality) they shouldn't be surprised that their witness is dim. Outreach is more than knocking on doors or having an event on campus. It's built through relationships. Pastors, do you know the principals at the schools near you? Do you know the names of the business owners around your church? For all of us, do we have friendships with lost people?
Turnaround Churches are Willing to Change - Change is hard. We have Disney passes and we see the angry comments people make when a ride is closed or a new pavilion is put in. Familiarity breeds nostalgia. It happens in the church too. But churches that are unwilling to change are signing their own death certificate. It might take a few years (or longer if they have money in the bank), but the death rattle is there. Every church must be willing to change. Not the message. Not the Gospel. But we must be willing to change. David Kinnaman asked a question that's never left me: "Do we love our traditions more than we love our children?"
Turnaround Churches are Guided by Prayer - Churches who want to turn the corner can't simply have prayer as an obligatory part of their services, it has to be something that's part of your DNA. If you want to know the health of your church's prayer life, think about what's mentioned at your prayer meetings. What gets shared more, health requests or mission requests? We should certainly pray for the sick and for the wounded to be healed. But when we spend all our time praying to keep the saints out of heaven, we're missing something. Prayer must guide every step of a church's process, and be so ingrained in its DNA that even guests get a sense something is going on. Does your leadership team spend time in prayer? What about in your worship services? What about in your own life?
Turnaround Churches Emphasize Development > Hiring - Hiring someone to do something is really easy. Just give them a job description and sign the check. When there's a need, we can farm it out. Whether it's musicians or nursery workers or even ministry leaders, we're missing out when we answer needs with a paycheck. Development looks different though. It's where we are working with people to put them in positions of service and leadership as a part of their Christian ministry and devotion. Instead of hiring out your children's workers, why not develop a handful of volunteers who can not only serve but own a ministry? Churches who make the turn may have to attach a vocational commitment to a role as it grows, but we shouldn't look at that as our first choice.
Turnaround Churches are Built to Last - Sadly, at UCLA the followers of Wooden haven't found as much success. Even the one coach who won a championship was pushed out the door. Coaches who won a majority of their games were fired. One was reported to get death threats. For all the good that Wooden did, it wasn't built to last. The same thing happens in our churches when everything gets dependent on us or on a small group. When something happens, the train comes off the rails. I think a lot of this is connected to the first, that pastors who fail to stick around leave behind them unfinished business that will never get completed. Hey churches, if your pastor were to get called away tomorrow or hit by a bus before Sunday, would things continue? Or would they revert back to the way they were?
What have you seen in churches that turn the corner?
The research arm of LifeWay Christian Resources recently published the findings of a massive study on 2,500 people who identify as churchgoers and their discipleship practices. The paradigm was the 8 Biblical Signposts which is the foundation for the curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and is a helpful way to assess and categorize ways of spiritual growth. The study focused on the first, Bible Engagement, which led to some very surprising findings (see below).
The first place to start is with ourselves as leaders. Are we regularly engaged in the Bible for our own personal growth, or are we only in the Bible as a preparation for teaching? We cannot expect others to do what we are not doing ourselves. One of the most powerful pictures of ministry and teaching I've seen was from my pastor in seminary who talked about ministry as an overflow of what was going on inside our own spiritual lives. If our well was dry, if our joy was weak, if our fellowship with God was lacking, we shouldn't be surprised that our ministry stunk.
The second is to look at what we are encouraging and teaching our congregations about Bible Engagement. I think we drop the ball on this in one of two ways: we minimize the importance of Bible engagement, or we make Bible engagement a bar too high to reach. We make it a bar too high to reach when we turn a delight into a burden. I cringed once hearing a pastor chastise people who didn't spend an hour in the Bible each day. But we also minimize it when we shrug off spiritual discipline as an excuse for apathy.
So how do we take something so important, and something that we would all agree is essential, and encourage ourselves and our congregations to greater faithfulness?
Technology - Set an alarm. Download a reading plan. Get into a text thread with someone for accountability. Take that device in your pocket and look at it as a means for spiritual growth if you can harness it.
Incremental Goals - The reason weight loss plans don't work is that people set ridiculously unattainable goals. Christians get discouraged when they set ridiculously unattainable goals for their spiritual lives. If you're reading this and you don't like where you are in your spiritual growth, then set an incremental goal of reading a chapter a day (hint: if you want to get in the practice try reading the Gospels, Mark and John are a great start). If you're a regular reader, set an incremental goal of memorizing a verse a week. If you're Super Christian, then go full on Andy Davis!
Find a Plan - I'm not endorsing one over the other, so here's a link to the Google Search results for "Bible Reading Plan." Want to know the right one? The one you pick.
The point is, whatever you do, do what you're able to and what spurs you on. We depend on grace, so the bigger win in Bible engagement isn't that you're spending a certain amount of time or reading a certain number of chapters, but that it's something you do regularly.
With it being Fourth of July week, it's a helpful reminder for all of us to take a step back, take a deep breath, and relax. Our pulpits yesterday were filled with the myriad of views about America: God's last hope for the world, A Nation to be reclaimed, A fallen moral giant, or for the really expository guys it was just another Sunday.
Behind all of it is a spectrumed dichotomy of worldview. Trevin Wax, who says things much smarter than any of us, made the observation in an article for The Gospel Coalition:
-Some (younger typically) view America as a Babylon, with the Church as a faithful remnant committed to redemption and transformation
-Some (older typically) view America as an Israel, with the Church responsible to reclaim and restore a political & social climate that once was
As pastors, we're going to have a church across the spectrum. And as pastors, we are charged with the oversight, instruction, and formation of the entire body. With that in mind, can I offer some pointers about how to lead somewhere between Israel and Babylon?
1. Don't pick fights - Ultimately, it's not that big a deal. This is, as theologians would say, a third level issue on the theological triage. Your opinion of if we should have flags in worship, should sing God Bless America, or any other raging debate, doesn't really matter that much. Pastors, we can (and should) have our opinions and positions on these issues. But we must also measure our positions against the wisdom of pushing beyond what's biblical or prudent. Whatever your position is, remember that there will be people in your congregation who differ. Is this really worth picking a fight over? Or is this better to, as Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 6:7, take an L?
2. Preach the Gospel, not Americana - The Cross invites men and women of all nationalities, all tribes, all tongues to come kneel before King Jesus. Heaven is promised to be a tapestry of colors and languages and flags who all worship as one before the Lamb. For the sake of the nations, preach Christ. For the sake of the lost, preach Christ. People won't be saved by returning to values or by making anything great again. People are saved through hearing about what Christ has done for them in His death and resurrection.
3. Praise God for freedom - Whatever your view on the spectrum, you can and really should take time to praise God for freedom. What we have been given as Americans is not only unique in Christian history but also in modern times. Religious liberty is guaranteed in our Constitution. And with it comes the freedom to gather for worship and preach without fear of government intrusion or seeking favors. We operate as a free church in a free state (thank you Roger Williams and Virginia Baptists!). This is great grace. Many of our brothers & sisters around the world worship and live in fear of a repressive and persecutive government. We don't. And that's worth celebrating.
4. Listen to Each Other - Full disclosure, I'm in the Babylon camp. I have a different view of America's founding and its identity as a "Christian Nation" than many others do, even in our church. But I want to know those who disagree and why they believe what they do. I want to know their experiences and their upbringing and what made them come to the conclusions and perspectives they do. James reminds us to be quick to listen and slow to speak, and we'd be wise to do that with our disagreements. Those who are more on the Israel side aren't there blindly, their view is held with conviction and conscience and is shaped by profound experiences.
5. Remember the temporary - On Thursday our nation will turn 243 years old. That sounds old until we remember that Japan has existed with an Emperor for millennia, England has since shortly after the time of the Roman Empire, and the Krelin of Russia was built before Columbus sailed. Even with these old nations, our time is limited. We are not guaranteed our tomorrow. At the end, when all nations have fallen and Creation itself is redeemed, the only banner that will fly is Jesus. All of this is temporary. And because it's temporary, it's urgent. As we lead between Babylon & Israel, we cannot lose sight of the urgency of the Gospel to our neighbors and to the nations.
These resources are helpful across the spectrum:
-Five Observations About Younger Southern Baptists (Trevin Wax)
-America: From Israel to Babylon (Rod Dreher)
-Is America a "New Israel" or a "New Babylon"? (Trigger101)
-Patriotism & the Gospel in American Churches (Jimmy Scroggins)
-Letter from a Minister about Corporate Worship (Chip Stam)
-Should Patriotism Have a Place in Worship? (Desiring God)
-Patriotism & Worship (David Brumbelow)
And when we thought it couldn't get any more surreal, The Athletic ran a story of what Kawhi was like in college at San Diego State. For one of the greatest players of his generation, his trash talk game was a bit odd. Rarely letting anyone score on him, when getting a rebound he'd say "Board man gets paid." When he explained the origin of that, it gave a glimpse into the psyche of a player who has a reputation for being intensely personal and a bit of a cyborg.
The takeaway? If we want to pursue excellence, to pursue effective ministry, we have to be willing to do the little things. Getting rebounds, for Kawhi, is a way that he can strengthen his team and increase his effectiveness on defense. It's also a reminder to everyone else on the team that since the star is willing to out-work, out-hustle, and out-compete, everyone on the roster should as well.
We do this when we adopt an attitude of whatever it takes. Never should we in leadership expect other people to do what we aren't willing to ourselves. It also means that we embrace passivity because "it's not my job." We should and ought to delegate, but we also have to remember that sometimes fulfilling our calling will involve unclogging a toilet.
We do this when we seek excellence in the little things. It's not usually in the big things that our focus is found, it's in the little things. When our services are filled with typos, glitches, our messages aren't crisp in their transitions, and we ask people to fill out cards that aren't where they should be, we're communicating a message of carelessness. It doesn't mean micromanaging, but it does mean ensuring that whatever we do, we're doing it with excellence.
We do this when we defer credit. The board man does the dirty work to clear the rebound and turn the ball up court. Usually the one clearing the rebound will be the last one in the offensive set. Deferring credit means that we're willing to let other people get the applause. As leaders, we're not doing what we do so we can get a pat on the back. We're willing to give credit to others, to lift up those around us.
We do this when we grind. Faithful ministry is less about stellar preaching and really slick video promotions. It's more about plodding. What separates basketball players with potential and those who succeed isn't talent, it's grind. When we're willing to put in the time, to work hard, to dig deep in people's lives, and to do the hard work, we're going to see fruit. We're going to see the work finished that God has started in our lives and others'.
When it's summer it's vacation season for pastors, and since Sunday still comes around whether we're around or not, it's time to line up guest speakers. It's so good for our churches to have a guest come in (even when we're not out of town) because you need a break sometimes, and quite honestly your church needs a break from you too! They might love you and appreciate your preaching, but it's always good for them to hear from someone else. It reminds them (and you) that God speaks through His Word and His servants beyond you.
When you bring in a guest speaker, you'll usually find one of these four types:
1. The Promising Rookie - Chances are you or a church in your area has a young man who has a calling to ministry and some potential, so guest speaking opportunities are a chance for them to get some field training. The pipeline for preaching and ministry isn't Bible college or seminary, it's the local church. If our churches are growing and healthy, we should at some point have some people God is calling out for ministry. One of the great blessings you can give as a pastor is to give these rookies a chance. Will it be perfect? Nope. Will it be as polished as #2 below? Nope. But let's never forget, someone gave us a chance one time long ago.
2. The Seasoned Veteran - One of my favorite things about Florida is that we're surrounded by people seasoned with experience, especially retired pastors and ministers. It's great knowing there are people nearby who are willing to help in any way who've served in ministry longer than I've been alive. The Seasoned Vet is someone you can call who will connect with people differently than you, who might preach differently than you do, but who will be of tremendous value to you and your church. Their messages have been refined by decades of faithful service.
3. Shoot Your Shot - These guest speakers are the guys who'll take their shot. Like famous volume shooter Antoine Walker said when asked why he took so many 3's: "Because there's not a 4 point line." The Shoot Your Shot guest speaker will take risks, he'll speak boldly, he'll challenge long held assumptions, and he'll do it the entirety of the message. He'll take every opportunity he's got to take his shot. Maybe they're passionate about one particular thing, or they're coming as a guest speaker on behalf of a parachurch mission or ministry. Don't be surprised if they pitch their ministry as the best ministry on the planet. They're shooting their shot.
4. The Dependable Reliever - Not everyone in the bullpen is throwing 103 with a nasty slider. Most of them are steady, reliable, dependable pitchers. When you're bringing in a guest speaker who's the Dependable Reliever, they'll step in and preach faithfully, they'll keep to their time limits, they'll smile and love people, and they'll leave your pulpit cleaner than they found it. Never underestimate the importance of the Dependable Reliever. Ten years from now people might not remember anything he said, but he'll have filled the gaps in ways that none of the other guest speakers could have.
There's something that happens when the calendar flips to June for pastors:
-It's really hot outside
-The crowds seem smaller on Sundays
-Your kids are off school for the summer driving your wife nuts
-Giving goes down
-Everyone seems to be out of town
It's the "Summer Blahs" of ministry. No matter our context, the majority of our scheduling and programming centers around the school calendar of a fall and spring semester. Summer, for a lot of us, can be a discouraging time.
But it doesn't have to be. Summer can instead be a time where we refresh, recharge, and renew before the calendar turns to September. Our summers are often lighter (with the exception of VBS for most churches), and we can spend some more time doing forward planning and prayer.
1. Spend time praying - Acts 6 is where I think most of us get our ministry half right. We love the "ministry of the Word" part of pastoral ministry, where we sermon prep and preach. But the other part of the Apostles' ministry was prayer. If we're honest, most of us would say our prayer life isn't nearly where we want it to be. Over the summer, commit to spending an extra 15 minutes a day in prayer. Not perfunctory prayer. But meaningful prayer. Prayer for your family, prayer for the church, prayer for particular people, prayer for vision.
2. Recharge - Somewhere along the way we bought into this lie in ministry that we run on some kind of unlimited battery. We serve an unlimited God but we are still bound in our fragility. We get tired. We get sick. We can't run on coffee and candy. Pastor, serious question: Did you make plans to take a vacation? Another serious question: Are you taking your day off? Sabbath rest (a day off) isn't unproductive, it's faith in action. Vacation isn't a waste of money, it's nourishment for your soul.
3. Read - You know what I'm about to mention? That pile next to your desk. You've been so busy since January getting ready for Easter and all the activity of ministry that your pile has grown. Why not take some time this summer to read a few books? And not just theology while we're at it. Pick up a biography. Pick up a novel. Read for fun. Read for growth. Read for professional development.
4. Look forward - Sleep research shows that when we don't dream, we're not going to be healthy or mentally refreshed. I think the same thing applies to pastors who don't stop to look forward. Dreaming isn't daydreaming. Daydreaming is what we do to escape what's in front of us. Dreaming is something entirely else though. Dreaming is where we look ahead to what could be in the future if we're faithful to what God has called us to.
5. Reconnect - For a public role, ministry can often be lonely. When was the last time you reconnected with a friend from seminary? With another pastor in the area? With your mentors? Now the hard one... with your wife?
Pastor, you got this. You'll get through the summer blahs. Hang in there!
All of us have been there. Cage Stage. It's where you find out about something and you're so passionate and zealous about it that it becomes everything you talk about. For some it's Calvinism, for others it's gender roles, for a few it's end times views. In a few years, it'll be something else.
Whatever your recently discovered fascination is, let me offer you four ways to get out of your cage.
1) Grow up - I don't mean this condescendingly. I mean it in love. Most of the time, the remedy to cage stage fascination is a few years of experience, getting married, and having kids. If nothing else, you're too tired to be zealous about something that doesn't matter. What we're passionate about in our youth we learn as we get older that it's not as big a deal as we once thought. Age, wisdom, and maturity are vitamins to our soul. To steal a line from the SBC this week, 2019 Scott has a lot to say to 2005 Scott who'd read more about TULIP than his humility could take.
2) Get outside the echo chamber - One of the reasons why our cage stage is so strong is that we find ourselves in an echo chamber of like-mindedness. Twitter only serves to multiply that, when we develop an insulated community of people who are also in their cage stage. Spending time with people who think different than you will help serve to refine and polish you.
3) Refocus on the main thing - Almost always, our cage stage is on a secondary or tertiary issue. In the grand scheme of things, it's not that big a deal. Our main thing is the Gospel: the good news of great joy that hope can be found in Christ. When we recalibrate our lives on the main thing, on keeping (HT to JD Greear) the Gospel above all, we'll see our cage stage fascination pale in comparison to the glories of the Gospel.
4) Spend time with seasoned leaders - If you're in ministry and you're in a cage stage, go spend some time with some seasoned (older) leaders. They've seen the fads and trends come and go. They've seen the fascination with end times charts and 88 Reasons and Left Behind. They've seen that all of these trends ebb and flow. And they've got something that we in our youthful zeal for our secondary issue don't have: wisdom. I give a lot of credit on this in my life to my father in law, who put his hand on my shoulder during one of my cage stage discussions and told me to relax. Over the years, he's proven invaluable to me to help think through issues.
What was your cage stage, and how did you break out?
Any kind of organizational dysfunction will eat talent for breakfast. It will take any potential and destroy it. Everything was primed for success with the Lakers. Magic was coming back, they were locking in LeBron in free agency, they were sizzling on social media. And then came missing the playoffs, leaks about trading half the roster, and Magic resigning in a press conference without telling his boss.
It's no different in churches. Dysfunction destroys vision. Dysfunction destroys optimism. Dysfunction destroys mission. Dysfunction destroys fellowship. Dysfunction, when left to fester and grow, will spread like a cancer throughout an entire church. You don't have to feed dysfunction for it to grow. It does it on its own.
If we're going to push back against dysfunction in the church, it starts at the top with clear communication, convictional leadership, and accountability for fruitfulness and faithfulness from pastoral leadership. One of the many hats that pastors wear is that of culture narrator. It's possible for a pastor to shape the culture by what's shared, communicated, valued, celebrated, and reinforced. Dysfunction happens when there's really no rhyme or reason for how things happen.
There can be a number of other contributors to organizational dysfunction, but if we as leaders aren't willing to look in the mirror and acknowledge our part in it, we're never going to see improvement.
A second way we can push back against dysfunction is for there to be clearly established roles, responsibilities, and lines of accountability established. Dysfunction happened in the Lakers when there wasn't clarity of roles and spheres of responsibility. When we onboard a staff member, we communicate clearly what is expected and who they are responsible for and to. When members join, we train and equip and deploy them into a ministry or group so they know where they thrive. Committees operate with a clear job description. Most of this I've learned the hard way.
A third way we push back against dysfunction is that we set an expectation of health. In sports this is called a "winning culture." That's why the same teams pick late in the draft, and the same teams pick early in the draft. Some teams have an expectation of health. Churches can too. We can have an expectation of reaching our communities, an expectation of fellowship, an expectation of growth, an expectation of service. Or we can just slosh through the motions and hope something good happens.
A fourth way to push back against dysfunction is to make sure that not only are there roles and responsibilities but that the right people are in the right seats. Ministry is not like an assembly line where you can plug in someone and the job just continues. There's a need to carefully assess giftedness, calling, character, skill, chemistry, and more. We have to make sure we're putting people in the right place so they can thrive. No one wants a grouchy children's worker who doesn't like kids. And you can't have a Luddite working with your technology.
How do you push back against dysfunction?
A couple weeks ago Carrie and I saw that one of our favorite TV shows was coming back with new episodes. If you’ve never seen Restaurant Impossible on Food Network, it’s worth checking out. The premise is that failing restaurants contact celebrity chef Robert Irvine in the hopes that his crew can overhaul the restaurant and give them a second chance. They normally overhaul everything: the menu, the appearance, and sometimes even the staff. After 48 hours they unveil a reveal where the restaurant reopens to a full house.
It’s really special. But then you see the success rate for these restaurants is less than 50%. Food Network Gossip has the list of restaurants that have aired, and 105 out of 144 have closed. Restaurants that were family treasures, a life’s work, or that were an effort to live the Dream… gone.
The overwhelming reason many of them close is that the cost of change was greater than the cost of losing everything. Churches and ministries do the same thing. When faced with change or death, many times they choose death (intentionally or not). We can, and should, learn from Restaurant Impossible. The carryover value is immense!
Desperation Leads to Quality Reduction - “CANNED!” is one of Irvine’s common things he screams when tasting the food. When restaurants get desperate, they start cutting quality. They get canned food, lower quality products, and skimp on the details like cleaning. Churches fall into this when they go into survival mode. They cut budgets way back to missions and ministries. They start into deferred maintenance. And they start and stop initiatives like they’re throwing spaghetti on the wall.
Hard Truth is Hard to Hear - In the show, the owners have to confront the hard reality. Many of them are in denial of how close they are to ruin, or how poor their food is. Sometimes they even threaten to stop the renovation because they don’t want to hear the hard truth. Churches and ministries sometimes need to hear hard truth that things aren’t working. It’s hard to eliminate ministries that don’t accomplish anything anymore. It’s hard to hear that things aren’t going well. But we can’t live in an echo chamber.
Lasting Change Starts Small - If you really think about it, what the crew does in Restaurant Impossible isn’t that much. They repaint, they get some new furnishings, they put some new items on the menu, and they open with a bang. It’s small. But it provides a spark. Churches that find themselves on the brink sometimes just need a spark, a small victory. Kotter calls it gaining momentum, Rainer calls it low hanging fruit. Sometimes if you want to see lasting change in a church, it can start as easy as decluttering closets or weeding the flower bed. What’s been missing in many of these churches and restaurants is hope. Starting small can give that dose of hope.
Culture > Renovation - It’s cool to see the renovation finished, when there are tears of joy and the credits roll with a full restaurant and a busy kitchen. But once the cameras are off, culture sets in. Culture is what is expected from the leadership. Culture is what pushes through when the initial rush settles. Sadly, many of the restaurants that close are because they go back to the same habits that got them in trouble. Churches without a healthy culture won’t see lasting change. That starts from the pastor setting the tone. Is it a culture of intentional health, growth, mission, and discipleship? Or is it a culture of laissez-faire?
What other connections would you make from the show to ministry?
We love baby steps. Whether it's with something like Dave Ramsey to get out of debt, the three-bite rule (whenever we have something for dinner the kids have to take 3 bites), or exercise programs like Couch to 5K, we try to make things easy for people to follow when they get into something new.
For Christian parents, even though our faith is central to our lives, it can be hard to begin having spiritual conversations in our families. We know we should. We've heard about it. We watch our kids spend their idle time knocking over angry birds or building stuff on Minecraft or whatever Fortnite is. And we know that what matters most is our kids' spiritual health. But how do we take baby steps?
1. Start by asking what they did in church - As easy as a question at lunch or dinner after church. Just ask the kids what they did at church. Talk about the Bible lesson. If they got handouts or take-home materials, walk through them. You can even read the story from the Bible as part of the asking. The joy of curriculum is it's written for comprehension at their age.
2. Bedtime prayer time - Those moments before bed are often the quietest moments with kids, no matter their age. And even if you have older elementary or teenagers, popping in to check on them or tell them goodnight offers a chance to ask them to pray. And in doing so you can pray for them specifically but also find out who they know or other situations to pray about.
3. Roses & Thorns - This is one of our favorites. We use this to talk at dinner about our day and find out what went really well and what didn't. We try to use the language of thorns instead of "what made your day bad?" because we want to frame the discussion so our kids don't fixate on the negative. But by asking them what went well and what didn't about their day can be a nice and easy way to encourage or pray.
4. Grab a Devotional Book - Even if your kids are too young to read on their own, you can still grab helpful devotional books to read along with them. For older kids, the options are almost too many to count. Check out CBD's options here, and Lifeway's here. One we have really enjoyed is a book called The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New. Along with that is Indescribable, written by Louie Giglio.
5. Parents, read a good book - I think it's really worthwhile for parents to read something helpful. I'm a fan of Age of Opportunity for parents of teenagers, Paul Tripp on 14 gospel principles for parenting, Give Them Grace, Shepherding a Child's Heart, Instructing a Child's Heart, Grace-Based Parenting, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full, Sticky Faith, Sacred Parenting, and Family Worship.
Remember, these are baby steps. Don't try to tackle everything. Start small. And if it doesn't work out immediately, step back and punt. Remember, doing anything to help shape your family's spiritual health is better than nothing.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.