The onset of 2007 dances on the near horizon, teasing coyly with its come hither promises of greater things to come. Looking back on the past ten years of my service at Portland Open Bible Church I can see that much has changed. Many faces, young and old, have gone, while many more have come. The kids who were first graders when I started are now driving cars, going out on dates, growing up. I am thankful that I get to watch at least some of them grow up, if even for a little while. I am proud of them and their parents too. I am proud that I had a part to play in leading a team of dedicated volunteers who are motivated to partner with parents and their families in raising kids who have a vibrant growing faith in Jesus Christ.
It isn’t mere nostalgia that prompts this Friday night muse. In the midst of carrying out my pastoral responsibilities to a new crop of kids in the younger generation and their families, I find it helpful to consider those who have gone on before. Their manner of conduct, ongoing attitudes, relationships with parents and testimony for the Lord is the true test, in my view, of how my faith community has done in nurturing them.
Nurture is not simply a parental task, although it is primarily the parent’s role to raise their own kids. It is also a familial task, specifically in terms of extended family. Uncles, aunts, grandparents older siblings, and other relatives all have a part to play in influencing young children morally and spiritually. Many families in USamerican culture have lost sight of this dynamic to their own overly mobile detriment. Taking the argument a step further, it is a task of the faith community in which the family is placed to nurture, along with parents and family, the emerging generations of children in our midst.
The individualism inherent in modernism as a given of the Enlightenment project has produced a consumption focused, consumer driven ethos which leads parishioners, especially those within evangelicalism in the USA, to buy into a segmented taste-testing brand of spirituality. And so we have families — some with both parents together, a growing number of others where this is not the case– who jump from church to church shopping for the perfect experience, the ideal setting that will evoke the feelings which they hope will validate them. And there are others who, when they finally find that “perfect church,” move forward with involvement, as long as it does not require too much of them. I recall a conversation ten years ago with one of my former seminary professors who expressed shock when she learned I had taken this position strictly on a volunteer basis, with no real hope of ever becoming employed. She earnestly and sincerely said to me, “The people in my church are all working professionals. We don’t have time to volunteer, so we pay others to work with our kids.” And so in terms of children’s ministry volunteerism, the ethos of that church appears to be “low expectation.” Sadly, this seems to be true of many churches. But it does not have to be that way. We can do better.
Ask yourself, does your church have a low expectation ethos? If yes, how does this affect your ability to recruit and retain volunteers for the long term? How does this impact your communication with parents who assume they do not need to be directly involved in the discipleship process of their children?
Also ask yourself, do the families in your church seem to focus on the nuclear family? Or is there a growing resurgence of extended family relationships? What difference is this making in the nurture of the children in your faith community? What steps might you take to encourage greater connectivity among extended families?
Ask yourself, do your prospective volunteers understand the expectations of your church? Your ministry team? Do they buy into a high expectation ethos?
A few years ago I sat in a Dmin class with Leith Anderson. He shared that at his church, Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, they treat volunteers with utmost respect and they have very high expectations, some positions even requiring office hours. Because all of this is clearly communicated, the volunteers, many of them retired executives and professionals, respond very positively to it. I am not sure I could get away with that at my church, at least not yet. But it highlights the need for children’s ministry leaders and for lead pastors to clearly articulate a high expectation vision which, over time and through their example, will translate into a high expectation church ethos.