Parents as growing guides

Growing WithI have sat back and observed the helicopter parents that seem to be so prevalent within our society. I’ve witnessed those parents who seem to be living vicariously through their children’s experiences. I’ve wondered whether the children who are on the courts and fields alongside my own children are there because they legitimately have a love and desire to play a sport or because their parents are banking on their kids securing an athletic scholarship in the no too distant future.

There is no doubt that parenting isn’t for cowards. There is no doubt that there are parents out there who have no concept of their own growth and transformation alongside their children on the journey. But if we embrace a faith in Christ and truly seek to be changed and transformed on this journey, we should also be seeking to be transformed in places where we may somehow think we’ve arrived, that includes parenting.

“As parents and caring adults, we often feel the gap between us and our kids widening as they become teenagers and young adults. Maybe it’s just that they’re growing up. But we fear the gap is also a symptom that we’re growing apart.” So write Kara Powell and Steve Argue as they begin their latest book “Growing With.”

Powell and Argue say that Growing With parenting is an attempt to close this growing gap between parents and their maturing children. Growing With parenting is an attempt to seek transformation not only for our children, but for ourselves as well. As maturity seems to be trending older now, meaning that children are arriving at certain life experiences later than their parents, there is a need for parents to understand this, learn from it, and seek ways to help rather than hinder their children on those journeys.

With this in mind, Powell and Argue suggest three dynamic verbs by which parents can best help their children and themselves as they move through this journey: withing, faithing, and adulting. It is around these three verbs that “Growing With” is written.

There is a constant tendency to want our children to experience things similarly to us, but we have to understand that the world is different. We need to hold on more loosely to our own ideals and dreams and allow our children to develop and mature in a path that may look vastly different from our own. As the authors write, “Growing alongside our withing, faithing, and adulting kids requires holding our future snapshots loosely, because our dreams may not end up being theirs.”

Powell and Argue, through their research, lay out guidelines by which parents can best facilitate their children’s growth through these three phases of withing, faithing, and adulting. They helpfully identify the various stages along the journey by labeling both children and parents. Children move from learners to explorers to focusers while their parents move from teachers to guides to resources. Because everyone is different, there is an overlap in all of these stages as children are transitioning from learners to explorers to focusers. Just as children transition through these stages, so do parents transition and there is overlap through their stages of teachers to guides to resources as well.

Just as there is awkwardness and uncertainty for our children as they move through these stages, so is there awkwardness and uncertainty in our own transition through the stages of parenting. We will not always get it right, we are not perfect, we will fail. Powell and Argue are not ashamed to share their insights which have come from both successfully navigating those transitions as well as unsuccessfully navigating. There are plenty of insights that come from the learnings that have been gained from failures and mistakes. I appreciate the humility and candidness with which the authors come, sharing their own imperfections to encourage the rest of us that even the “experts” don’t always get it right.

The authors use a helpful diagram which lays out a picture of the journey through all three stages of withing, faithing, and adulting as children move from learners to explorers to focusers and as parents complete their own journey as teachers to guides to resources. The inclusion of this diagram throughout the book is a helpful reminder to the reader of what the journey may look like and just how fluid these processes become.

Humility and grace are required for this journey. Growing With parenting cannot be achieved by parents who are seeking only for their kids to avoid certain things or for parents who simply believe that filling their children with Jesus when they’re young will somehow propel them forward and fill them up for the rest of their lives. Growing With parenting seeks for faith to be more than a noun. Faith is also a verb.

There are so many insights within this book, more than a short review allows me to share. Having read Kara’s book “Sticky Faith” years ago and also having been privileged to have been part of Sticky Faith cohort through the Fuller Youth Institute, the principles which are laid out and shared in “Sticky Faith” and also in Kara and Steve’s book “Growing Young” are cumulative, the build on one another. While reading these other books isn’t a requirement to read “Growing With,” it is helpful to be familiar with the concept which the authors lay out.

Part of the Growing With journey for parents is about allowing your children to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. It’s also about giving children the space to make decisions that don’t always align with your own values. The authors share insights into the most effective ways to do this and, through their own research, share the statistics and rates of success. Not surprisingly, some of the methods that may have been labeled as “tried and true” in the past are proven, through research, to not be nearly as effective as they once were thought to be.

Powell and Argue do their best to tackle as broad of a spectrum of experiences as possible in “Growing With.” They share insights about identity issues that emerging adults may be struggling through, particularly in the area of LGBTQ. While this might cause some readers to squirm, I appreciate the authors’ sensitivity and understanding that this is not an issue to be swept under the rug, but rather one to hold and acknowledge, regardless of where you stand on the specifics of this identity and the Bible.

Having not only read their books but having also sat under their teaching, I can honestly say that Kara and Steve offer parents the triple threat of information. They have been educated in this area, they have done extensive research in this area, and they have the experience of being parents themselves of emerging adults who have been on this journey. The insights and wisdom that they offer doesn’t come from some ivory tower of academia but it is seasoned with the scars and lumps that have been gained from knowing firsthand what this all feels like.

If I have any criticism of this book, it’s that there are times in “Growing With” that some of the statistics and additional information presented can feel burdensome. But admittedly, I am a bottom line person who can too easily become entangled with peripherals, so I appreciate a straightforward presentation of material. I often feel the need to read every sidebar, note, and insight within a book. I don’t imagine that the authors expect that same approach from every reader, but they also know that there will inevitably be those readers who want this additional information so that they can journey down the rabbit hole towards a better understanding of the conclusions reached in this book.

For readers who are longing to see not only the growth and development of their children but also their own growth and development, “Growing With” is a must read book. Nowhere along the way will the reader feel as if they are being lectured or talked down to, instead, they should feel as if they are being the gift of two humble and loving guides who are seeking to help others navigate and negotiate the difficult journey of parenting in the 21st century.

I highly recommend this book, not only to be read once, but to be kept on your shelf for constant reference as you navigate the rough waters of parenting. I also recommend that anyone who is part of a local church, whether in leadership or not, read this book as well. Based on what we read in Scripture, the task of parenting should not be limited to those who are biologically or legally responsible for their children. If we truly care about the growth and transformation of Christ’s church in this world, then we should also be considering how we are investing in her next generation.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

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Irresistible Faith – A Book Review

irresistible faithMany people are familiar with the quote attributed to Gandhi that, “I like your Jesus but I don’t like your Christians.” For centuries, it seems that one of the greatest apologetics against Christianity has been the body of Christ, who have misrepresented him and, “created a public relationship nightmare for the movement that he began through his death, burial, and resurrection.”

Into this, Scott Sauls brings his latest book, “Irresistible Faith.” Sauls is calling the body of Christ to be a better representation of who we are called to be in this world. If we begin to live in such a way that our faith is irresistible, perhaps the apologetic might turn around and instead of dissuading people from Christianity, they might see something in us so compelling that it will be irresistible.

Sauls splits the book into three parts: abiding in the Irresistible Christ, belonging to an irresistible community, and becoming an irresistible Christian. He calls Christians to seek out ways to distinguish themselves from the world in which we live. His call isn’t to completely sequester ourselves or hole ourselves up and practicing avoidance at all costs. Sauls points us to a place of savoring Christ rather than the things that the world has to offer.

He isn’t condemning the things of the world, he is simply condemning the loving and savoring them over Christ. He writes, “Possessing what the world has to offer only become problematic when possessing what the world has to offer starts to possess us.” Saul uses the example of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings books, a creature who had once been a simple Hobbit but who had been overcome with a lust for his “precious” that turned him into something like Hobbit-like.

Sauls also calls his readers to belong to an irresistible community. This has been a problem for many people as their experience of the church, the body of Christ, has been less than desirable. Rather than experiencing a place of welcome, warmth, and love, they have experienced a place of judgment, backbiting, and abandonment.

But we were created for community, Sauls writes, “not for isolation; for interdependence, not for autonomy; for relational warmth and receptivity, not for relational coldness and distance.” When God created Adam, he knew that it was not good for him to be alone. We also see that the community that existed from eternity past within the three persons of the Trinity has been extended outwards to those whom God has created in his own image.

There is acknowledgment of the imperfections of the church, but Sauls casts vision of what the church could be. “If all our Christian communities and churches were sold out to this one simple practice – to only speak words that make souls stronger – I wonder how many spiritually disengaged people would start wanting to engage. I wonder how many religious skeptics would want to start investigating Christianity instead of keeping their distance from its claims and its followers.” That kind of community would be compelling and irresistible to those who can encounter the opposite over and over again within the world.

Being in community means opening ourselves up to accountability and confrontation. Those things need to be done with loving intentions and humility. We are all imperfect, but that shouldn’t stop us from calling each other out with the right intentions. We should treat each others, “as fellow sinners who are on a journey right alongside us. We move together toward perfection, being animated by God who is faithful to complete the work that he began in us.”

Lesslie Newbigin once wrote that movements towards the new creation that God is seeking to create can only happe, “when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as a sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society.” This is the beginning of Saul’s third section of the book, how we become irresistible Christians.

We move towards becoming irresistible Christians as we treasure the poor, as we embrace our work, and as we leave things better than we have found them. Sauls is calling his readers to the work of biblical justice, being about the things that God is about. He doesn’t mince words, telling Christians that if the only faith people see is a doctrinal skeleton without the flesh and muscle that carry that doctrine out, then we have a malnourished faith which is sick or dead.

Sauls encourages a work ethic that makes no sacred and secular distinction. He is not promoting an ideology that only those who find themselves employed full-time in some kind of ministry position or organization are the only legitimate ministers. Instead, he calls Christians to the words of the Apostle Paul who said that we should do everything, no matter what it is, as if we are doing it unto the Lord.

Finally, rather than embracing a twisted and distorted theology that “it’s all gonna burn up anyway,” Sauls encourages Christians to leave things better than they have found them. While many have claimed that we can attain perfection and create a better world apart from Christ, Sauls says that the only way that we can achieve this is through the power of God. He casts a vision for what could be if Christians were to live differently.

“Irresistible Faith” is a call to action. Sauls is not simply suggesting that right theology will get us to a place where we are on track to better represent Christ. He is calling Christians to let their theology be evident in what they do, what they say, and how they act in this world. He is really calling Christians to step up to be who we are supposed to be rather than who we have become.

If you want to be challenged and called to action, then you will appreciate Saul’s work here. If you want to continue to live a life that seems no different than those around you who have no faith to speak of, then this book is probably one to avoid. If we heed the call that Sauls puts out here, I think we could see a real “turning of the ship” when it comes to how the world sees and perceives the body of Christ who is supposed to be representing him in this world.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Deserving and Undeserving

I’ve been meeting some new friends as I continue on my new journey of starting a new church. The experience of meeting new people and getting to know them has been a humbling and learning experience. I have learned of the need to be patient and listen, to hear stories that are shared and to ask questions.

The other day, at a weekly breakfast gathering I attend, a new friend started talking to me about his approach towards helping those in need. It’s funny, people who know that I am a pastor seem to feel compelled or even obligated to share certain things with me. This was no exception.

I don’t really remember what it was that led to my friend’s comments, but he said that some people give to the deserving poor, like widows who have lost husbands or orphans or foster children. He told me that he doesn’t distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving. Some people would call undeserving poor those they encounter on the streets, the ones who might buy alcohol with the money that you give them, the ones that have a look about them.

If we’re honest, a lot of us probably take a look at someone and make assessments of their story before we even hear a word from them. They’ve gotten themselves in this situation, we might think. Why can’t they get a job, we might ask. Let them work just like the rest of us, we might complain.

But my friend’s words struck me. It’s sad that we would somehow elevate ourselves to the place of judge and somehow make assessments without knowing the back story. Somehow, we give ourselves the right to judge whether a person is deserving or undeserving of our charity or grace.

It’s hard for me to not make a correlation here to spiritual things. While some of us may make assessments as to whether or not someone is deserving of our charity, I also think that more of us will choose and judge whether or not a person is deserving or undeserving of grace. How have they treated us? What have they done to deserve this, to earn it?

Funny, the whole premise of grace is that it is something that has been given freely and without merit and yet some of us continue to mete out judgment about it. But if we’re judging whether or not someone deserves grace, then it no longer qualifies as grace.

Now, what would we do if God looked at us and asked himself whether any of us were deserving of grace? What if he said, “I’m not going to give them grace because they’re just going to squander and abuse it. If I give them grace, they might not use it on something beneficial.”

And yet, that’s exactly what we do. We go around labeling people as to whether or not they are deserving or undeserving of our charity or of our grace. We play God.

The words of my friend have plagued me since he said them. I can’t help but think about my own judgment, how I label people, how I somehow become the judge and jury, and I tell myself their story in my head without even asking them.

Sure, there’s such thing as toxic charity, and there is a likelihood that sometimes, when you give something away, the person who receives it won’t respect it and treat it as you had hoped or even thought they would. But what does that have to do with us?

I’m doing my best to stop asking about what a person does or doesn’t deserve. Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves, I’m not so sure that I always use what I’ve been given the way that I should or in a beneficial way, so what gives me the right to keep something from someone else?

 

Love People, Solve Problems

As I’ve been on this church planting journey that I’ve been on, I’ve tried to surround myself with some quality mentors and leaders from whom I can learn. I’ve done enough life and ministry at this point that some of the arrogance that I once had in my twenties has been rubbed away and I’ve come to a place of acknowledgement of my own limitations and inadequacies. I have been incredibly blessed to have a few mentors around me who have spoken truth, life, and encouragement to me.

Last week, I met with one of those friends and mentors for lunch. I was updating him on where I am in the process and telling him some cool God stories that had taken place. God stories are the ones that you know could only happen by God’s power and hand, not by my own talents or abilities.

As we shared stories and caught up, he felt led to share some insights with me. He told me that he wanted to share something with me that had been helpful to him which he thought would also be helpful to me.

He said, “Remember, love people and solve problems.”

As the words escaped his mouth, he let them hang there for a minute. I’m sure that the look on my face hinted at the activity in my brain at that moment. I was trying to wrap my head around just what that meant.

When he had seen that I had struggled long enough to decipher his saying, he launched into his own experience of embodying those words. He said that he had at one time tried to solve people and love problems. But he realized that was fruitless and just led to frustration.

You see, ministry in general can be frustrating. Heck, any occupation that deals with people can be frustrating, so who am I kidding. If you deal with people, you will find yourself at times angry, frustrated, and wanting to give up. You will see them as problems to be solved rather than people to be loved. The achievers among us will want to fix them, to solve them, to help them reach their full potential and forget all about one of Jesus’ greatest commands: to love them.

I can be very task oriented. I can easily see a problem and move to fix it rather than trying to understand why it’s there. In my effort to move to solution, I forget that there is flesh and blood before me, someone to be loved and not fixed.

This friend and mentor knows me well enough by now to know that this same lesson that had proved some monumental and crucial to him was also something I needed to hear and embrace.

You see, focusing on loving someone and solving the problem pits me against the problem rather than the person. When we see the problem, even if that means there is conflict between us, we join together to do our best to find out how we solve the problem together. If we look at each other rather than the problem, all we will see is each other as the problem and then try to fix each other to accommodate our own preference or mindset.

It’s too easy to get caught up in looking past people to solutions and completely forgetting how valuable and important those people are. Loving people takes time and compassion. It takes empathy and care. Loving them and solving problems means investment. If we fail to love people and solve problems, then when we fail to solve a person, we simply discard them or walk away, excusing this abandonment as necessary because of the lack of growth and movement we saw.

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that somewhere along the way, someone loved us rather than trying to solve us. They took the time and invested in us, seeking a solution to a very real problem but seeking that solution through us rather than in us.

There is only one person who can solve and fix people, and that is God. I can’t do it. You can’t do it. The more that we try to do it, the more frustrated we will find ourselves becoming.

What will happen if you go into your day seeking to love people and solve problems. I know that in just the few short days since this truth was hammered home to me it has made a significant impact in me. It’s hard to rush towards solutions when you are simply trying to love someone.

 

The New You – A Book Review

The New YouAccording to Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Henson, “Too many people filling American churches each weekend aren’t able to experience life to the fullest because they are struggling with their physical bodies, their minds and emotions, and their daily relationships with God.” And so the duo introduces their premise in their latest book, “The New You.”

Christians are called to care for themselves, not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually, and mentally as well. We cannot continue to make excuses as to why there is no need to care for ourselves in these areas, we need to pursue health in these areas to be good stewards of what God had given us.

Searcy and Henson take their readers through these four areas, but before they do, they remind them that this process is not one of overnight success. It is a process and they recommend three steps: surrender your health to God, stop making excuses, and start making small steps to change. When you “fall off the wagon,” make course corrections and start again. Give yourself grace and keep pressing on. They remind their readers that, “quick fixes always lead to short-term results, followed by a face plant right back into the condition we were in before we started.”

Each chapter concludes with a section called, “Small Steps to the New You,” which contains simple steps to help the reader move towards a new and healthy lifestyle. The writers share their own experiences, both successes and failures, as they encourage the reader towards a healthy lifestyle.

The message of this book is a necessary. For far too long, Christians have pointed to pet sins to decry while dismissing their own lack of stewardship in the area of health, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. This book is a call for Christians to see the need for the stewardship of their bodies and to realize that the lack of care for themselves is simply irresponsible.

While the message of this book was not new to me, Searcy and Henson’s connection of health to stewardship may be revelatory to some. They approach their subject with grace and freedom, not legalistically. If you are struggling to move towards a more healthy lifestyle, this book may be a step in the right direction.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)