Archive for January, 2006

What About the Kids?

January 31, 2006

Sign up for any conference or workshop on “home-churching” anywhere in the country and I guarantee you that you will hear pretty much the same questions asked at every one of them. The first one is almost always the same: What do you do with the kids?

I have mixed feelings about this ubiquitous question. My good feelings come from the fact that I identify with parents who seek to actively integrate their kids into the activities of the church. I happen to think that if a church has any desire to live beyond one generation then it will have to somehow involve the kids at every stage of their development. Somehow they must come to “own” church life as their own, and the Lord must be real to them as they grow up. As my kids are entering grade school, I’m becoming more and more eager to include them in some form, maybe writing songs for them, or occasionally scheduling a kids’ meeting (something they’ve elected to do on their own on a couple of occasions), or simply including them in one of our regular meetings (with some preparation of course).

But there’s also something not-so-good underneath the perennial what-do-you-do-with-the-kids question. Too often the church asking the question is operating with a meeting-centered mentality. If you think church=meetings then the kids aren’t a part of the church if they’re not in the meetings. When the life of the church isn’t based in community (i.e. a more comprehensive involvement in each others’ lives), then the meetings are all you’ve got. On the other hand, when “church” means who you are all the time, then you see that the kids are already involved in the life of the church. They spend time together, play together, sometimes eat together. The interact with adults from families other than their own, and that fact alone places them in a priviledged group (Research shows that kids who get regular, positive interaction with adults outside their own nuclear family have a higher chance of success in things like social development, behavioral expectations, etc.)

We “westerners” (products of the European Enlightenment) have always been program-centered. When we think of education, for example, we inevitably picture a classroom situated in rows with an educator perched at the front. Our concept of learning is teacher-centered, lecture-based, and restrictive. But there’s another model (a much older model) for learning that happens naturally in a church like ours. It’s relational. It’s “situational” (anchored in real-life situations as they arise). It involves active learning based in the needs of the kids as they discover them.

Think about it this way: Which kind of learning do you think sticks with a child better: When they hear a biblical principle illustrated during a Sunday School lesson in a classroom, or when a life circumstance motivates the child to ask her mother a question about the right thing to do in that situation? I’d definitely go with the second one. A family and a church community who love the Lord and actively pursue Him in daily life will prepare a child to know Him immeasurably better than years of Sunday School lessons. Even from a standpoint of educational theory, stuff learned in real life situations are generalized into the rest of life more easily than stuff learned in an environment like a classroom, which is too divorced from daily life.

So how you approach this question of “what do you do with the kids” turns out to reveal a good bit about how you see the church and daily life in the Lord. The church isn’t about meetings. And knowing the Lord is a relational process, not an intellectual procedure. Knowing Him isn’t about memorizing the right things. It’s about knowing and loving a Person who also comes to you in the form of your brothers and sisters in Christ. The meeting is when you come together to report your experience of Him to each other. More on that in the next blog, I believe…

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What’s a Meeting For?

January 30, 2006

The brothers in the church where I live have been tossing around this question for a little while. What’s the purpose of the gathering of the saints? That question keeps popping up and we seem to be hitting on some similar conclusions each time we come at it. Now, don’t get me wrong…there’s no consensus about this thing because it’s multi-faceted. There’s no one simple answer that encompasses the purpose of the meeting of the church. And I’m not about to presume to give any definitive answer on it. But I think we’ve hit on a few things that it ISN’T about, and a few things that it IS about. So here goes my attempt:

The meeting of the saints ISN’T an end in itself. It’s not the reason we exist. As we say in the churches I run with: The church isn’t the meetings. The meetings express what the church is. But the church can’t be reduced to its meetings. We are the church all the time. Of course, this is so much easier to see when there’s some kind of community going on. When you live really close together, for example, the communal aspect of the church is made visible. It’s like a family. And a family doesn’t become a family by eating supper together. It already is a family. Everything it does is as a family. But because it IS a family, they spend a lot of time together, and they eat together. Likewise the church is the church whatever it does. It doesn’t become the church because it does the right thing when it meets. Please don’t buy that mentality. The church is so much more than its meetings.

For this reason, “tweaking” our meetings must never become the focus of our attention. If the meetings are bad, the problem isn’t with the meetings. The meetings are an expression of the life of the church. If the meetings are flat, or boring, or whatever, it’s because the rest of the life of the church is needing more Life. Now I’m not knocking the occasional “how are we doing” talk, where you frankly discuss what’s going well and what’s not going well (including what happened in the last meeting). We should always be willing to discuss what is helpful to the meeting. For example, if one guy never shuts up, or has to get the first word or the last word on everything shared, it’s okay to point that out. If you don’t say something it’ll never stop. But the mechanics of our meeting should never become the preoccupation of our minds. The meetings are the natural outgrowth of the Life of the church. So manipulating the meeting to effect change in the rest of the life of the church is getting the cart before the horse. The meeting is like a barometer, or a thermometer, rather than a thermostat. It shows how the church is doing. It’s not a mechanism for fixing the church’s temperature.

I’ve heard brothers and sisters in other places make this same discovery recently: You can become so caught up in trying to BE the church that you forget that you ALREADY ARE the church. The heart of religion is in trying to get it right. Say it right. Feel it right. Let us never fall into that trap. We’re discovering that those of us who have forsaken so many of the traditional Christian trappings will still fall into the very same things we were hoping to escape. It’s in human nature. We are always trying to reduce this Life into something clearly definable, easily repeatable. We want a clear measuring stick by which we can judge everything we say and do as a church. But it doesn’t work that way. Following that cloud is a bit more unpredictable than that. There’s always more to learn. There’s always sides to Him that we’ve barely even touched. He’s a vast Ocean of experience, and we’re still snorkeling around the shallows of Him.

There’s so much more to say here. But I’ve got to teach a class of reprobates now. Maybe I’ll wax eloquent again later.

Human Again

January 17, 2006

Feeling a bit better today. It’s been over three weeks now since this thing started, and the worst of it was over the weekend. After two days of teaching I coughed so much and so hard that I pulled a back muscle. Then it hurt to move at all for two days. The second of those two days brought a wedding rehearsal that I couldn’t miss, followed by a bachelor’s party of course!

Needless to say, we looked like a lame bunch of groomsmen indeed. The Best Man had Bronchitis, I had Pneumonia, and even the groom had come down with an awful cough. We made it through, though, and the groom is happily married (it’s about time!). It’s always awkward to tell people that you’re out for a bachelor party when your intentions are to keep it somewhat clean. You get inundated with lascivious suggestions and directions to various strip clubs, and you just have to smile and say, “Gee thanks, now we know.”

I saw the doc again today, and he said, “yep, still pneumonia” and prescribed a z-pack (anti-biotic), which incidentally, was my mother’s original suggestion three weeks ago when this whole thing started up in the first place. I still sound like a giant seal barking when I cough, and I’d be in traction if it weren’t for ibuprofen. Plus I have to take this stuff for my lungs that tastes like bad tequila. But I’ll eat cowchips if it’ll make me able to take a full breath again.

Today was the first day in a while that I felt human again. And my poor wife. She’s been a real trooper. She’s so past ready to have her husband back again. I was beginning to worry that he wasn’t coming back soon…

Now if we could just get the rest of the church well again.

From blog to bluuuhg!

January 9, 2006

I’ve been sick now for 16 days. It’s just ridiculous, you know? The day after I got out for Christmas break I got some chest congestion and fever. Then the family started passing around strep and diarrhea. Then my congestion developed into pneumonia. Give me a break. Fever comes and goes from time to time, and the fluid in my lungs keeps me from breathing normally, and I have to sleep upright if I am to get any sleep.

School starts back tomorrow and I’ll be reporting for duty since I don’t see much point in lying around the house any longer. Besides, the last thing I want to do is use up my sick days on something as unpleasant as being sick! I need those days for other things (like when my wife or kids get sick, or when I’ve got a dozen errands to run that cannot be done after school hours).

Yesterday was probably the hardest part. I had to get up at 5:00am and drive an hour and a half to take three teacher’s exams that took all day. I am told that before next year special ed teachers (who often teach multiple subjects) have to pass national exams in every subject area they will be teaching. I teach Literature, Geography, Math, Science, and Health. I anticipate teaching History in the future as well, plus I’ve got two other general content tests to take (and I’ve already passed two!) So I’ve got some cash to fork out (each of these tests costs me around $80).

Well, no great inspirational words today. Just illness. It’s like Maslow pointed out: the drive for higher things often gets postponed until certain physical needs are taken care of. At least, that’s where I am at the moment. I trust I’ll find that I still have a spirit once I can breathe again. Until then, Lord…. This too is from You.