Reverse Critique Or, How Our Children Expose Us

“We are going to look for another church.” The words stung the young pastor. He was quite unaware of how to proceed. Should he confront the members on their way out for some explanation? Would it be polite to ask what happened to were considered good friends and church members?

The young pastor did ask. It did not help. While there are lots of reasons people look for another church, in this case the reason amounted to, “They sing the music we sing here much better.” Moving from a church of 300 to a church of 10,000 was prompted by singing better arrangements of the same songs. Welcome to church in the 21st century.

Another pastor recently received word a church leader would be leaving to look for another church. “Our children don’t look forward to coming to church.” Really. David Fitch responds to this sentiment,

Most parents know this instinctively. Entertaining television programming about sharks can certainly teach a child a lot of stuff about the sea world. But it can only go so far in terms of real life. The child must learn to read, learn to listen/pay attention to a real human voice, learn to stay focused without screen change every .4 seconds. I’m sure my son has A.D.D. or A. D. H. D. It is the brain patterns most easily developed within our media driven culture. But I must nurture my child into real social existence. Or else he too shall become a statistic. He too will ever lack motivation for anything else but the next immediate titillation. This is why for me, when my son says “but daddy, I just don’t get anything out of the worship service,” I am not the least bit surprised. It is a teaching moment – not the occasion to run to the next mega church Disney service.

And off we go. Too often we look and ask what is wrong with our church. It is not that we do not need to always be evaluating our mission in its relationship to the mission of God. But, too often in our scapegoat culture where we look to blame any- and every-thing we can, Fitch adds,

3.) Children Ultimately Will Follow/Imitate Their Parents and Adults They Can Respect – therefore one’s children and how they are progressing can function as an excellent diagnostic for our own level of engagement with God.

In other words, when we hear our children talk about their lack of interest in church, it may well invite us to ask what they are seeing/learning/experiencing from us.

I fear the real issue is around the vision for the life of the church, local Christian community of faith. Much has been written about how the church today appears to be more a purveyor of spiritual goods and services than a place of transformation in the Way of Jesus.

A recent church planter/pastor quit. He resigned. I have followed him on Twitter for some time. I have read some of his blog posts. Someone pointed to his wife’s thoughts on what happened to their once so successful venture.

Tired of the big show, it seems Shaun hoped to lead his new, growing congregation to consider a remarkable turn. It is not unlike the turn described by pastors Carlson and Lueken in, Renovation of the Church. On the other side for them their church grew from 2000 to 800. Not exactly the metrics propped up as indicative of the activity of the Spirit of God. A closer look revealed a similar shift in ethos for young Shaun.

For me I wonder if we could take Fitch’s thoughts and suggestions and apply the same to those young church plants. It is the rage. Everyone with any clout is looking to start a church planting network. Denominations adopt the practice as the new model for growing the Kingdom. The problem is these new “children” expose us. They rarely reach teenage years. What does that say?

Too many attribute the dismal statistics to some failure of leadership in the fledgling congregation. What if we consider Fitch’s line from above, “one’s children and how they are progressing can function as an excellent diagnostic for our own level of engagement with God.”

Maybe we need to re-think church planting movements as the new model for growing the Kingdom of God. Scandalous. Shut your mouth! I know it sounds anti-Christian. Right up until we consider what it means when a Shaun King steps down. His discovery was not unlike the move Francis Chan made when he realized that after growing his church to quite a large congregation there was really little transformation. A realization that pushed him right out the door.

A friend of mine remarked about this, “We are going to see more and more of this.” My reply. “We have just been ignoring it.” We do not really want to consider what it means. We do not want the reverse critique. We set up large mega churches and their leaders as iconic illustrations of success. They are idolized. They become the measure. And, when a child fails it is something about their process, lack of resources, or fortitude. It could never be that their failure exposes us and that we are really are not as interested in the transformation wrought in the sort of relationships that cannot be managed by screen and novelty.

Maybe we should re-think what we mean when we point to the Scripture that tells us a Teacher will be judged with a weightier measure. Too often what we teach is not combined with living illustration. Absent that, what is there to judge but ensuring you know the textbook well. How many children advanced very far with just a textbook?

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

4 comments on “Reverse Critique Or, How Our Children Expose Us

  1. Wayne says:

    I’m not so much against church planting… I just am not sure I understand it in Atlanta, where I live. There is a church (or two) on almost every corner (literally)! People called to fulfill the Great Commission by planting a church should consider going to the Northeastern US or Pacific Northwest. Church isn’t nearly as popular in these locales… at least not evangelical church. Just thinking on paper tonight. God bless!

  2. Wayne,
    I am not against church planting either. My question is, “Does the plight of many a struggling, often short-lived, church plant reflect at all on the “parents” of the plant – be it a church or denomination or celebrity with a network?

    Reading Shaun’s story it really does not matter where he planted the church. The point is that at some spot along the way the standard expectation for a church plant was reached and became vacuous because the Gospel did not appear to have the transformative effect we read about in the Scriptures – and that by people considered leaders and “supporters.” Once a move to amend the vision to include “intentional” means of transformation, the new consumers find the new business to have stopped offering what it promised and it is either out with the leader or on to another place.


  3. Rick Carr says:

    I think a lot of it is cultural. Americans like Walmart. They like big and cheap, even if it’s impersonal. Sometimes they like impersonal (non-involvement, non-confrontational). Part of it is “wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.” For many, church is entertainment. If this one isn’t entertaining enough, they’ll go to that one.

    With church planting, the same thing happens. A new church is novel (a new form of entertainment); so it may attract some Christians from other churches, or who are unchurched. Even if it is composed mostly of new believers, ultimately, they fall into the cultural pattern of seeking the bigger (better), more entertaining church. Because, that’s how it’s done in our culture. This little church was nice for awhile, but it doesn’t offer as much.

    Some of that is because the church as a whole has never really excelled at equipping the saints, imo. Some of it is because many of the saints don’t really want to be doing the work of the ministry, they just want their weekly spiritual experience, then go home and live their “real” lives. Sometimes the “children” don’t want to grow up.

  4. Rick,
    I agree much of what we face is culturally influenced. The question begging to be answered is, for me, related to the posture of the church in that culture. Not in the traditional Niebhurian sense of a position “toward” culture.

    I am sure there is a little of both when it comes to the church as entertainment. Leaders may foster it. Attenders may demand it. But at some point there has to be some resistance to what kills the soul – even of those attending to be entertained.

    The problem I am hinting at is something of a systemic matter. Your last paragraph gets at this issue. For quite some time the “system” has not fostered means for Christian spiritual formation in community. Any attempt is running upstream – that is what Shaun King experienced as a church planter in Atlanta as did Francis Chan and Pastors Carlson and Lueken did in California. And, while this represents some very large churches, there are plenty of the average size church who suffers the same. Their leaders quietly fade as they do not have as high profile a situation as these mentioned.

    Love the continued metaphor – “Sometimes the ‘children’ don’t want to grow up.” My suspicion they learn that from their parents on some level.

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