Three Non-Negotiable Expectations in Children’s Ministry

Ministering to children in the local church is difficult for a number of reasons:

  1. Children’s ministry leaders and servants are often under-appreciated.
  2. Children’s ministry leaders and servants are often taken advantage of.
  3. Children’s ministry leaders and servants are often under-staffed. There are rarely enough of us.
  4. Teaching the Bible to children is challenging, and none of us is an expert.

Recognizing these challenges, and the many more that could be added, helps me see why burnout in children’s ministry is so common. It’s exhausting to lead and serve with children. And almost every children’s ministry servant I’ve met confesses inadequacy in teaching. Most children’s ministry volunteers are not school teachers. Most haven’t been formally trained in child psychology or development. Most of us are just trying to figure out our own kids, let alone someone else’s!

It has been my experience that the more equipped a volunteer feels, the less likely he or she will experience burnout. There are many ways to equip volunteers as leaders and teachers. There are techniques for classroom management and Bible teaching skills that can and should be shared.

Even though I train all of my K-6 small group leaders, I have three non-negotiable expectations of them. I remind my servant-leaders of these three expectations on a weekly basis. Without these expectations, teaching children is both ineffective and invaluable.

To put it more positively, I believe when these three expectations are met, the foundation is laid to lead and teach the gospel to children with much effectiveness.

1. Show the Kids You Love Them

Man, this is crucial. When you love the children, you will create the safest environment possible for them. You will protect them. You will value them. And you will gain an audience with them.

Ask any teacher in a public or private school and they will tell you that until you show children that you truly care about them they will not listen to you. You have to earn their ears. I want the kids I lead to know I care about them. I begin each of our large group teaching sessions with a sharing time I call “Awesome, Not So Awesome.”

During this time I ask the kids to share one awesome thing and one not-so-awesome thing that has happened recently. This is an easy and fun way for me to learn a lot about the kids, and it helps them see that I genuinely care about them.

In my opening prayer, I always thank God for creating each of the kids in his image exactly the way he did. I affirm that he didn’t make any mistakes, and that they are unique and special because they are made in his image.

Whatever you do and however you do it, I would encourage you to show the kids you aren’t just there to pass along information. Talk to them about their lives. Ask questions about family and school. By asking questions and getting to know them better, your prayers for them will be much more personal and intimate and your teaching will carry much more weight.

2. Show the Kids You Love the Bible

I want to be very specific here. The kids in your ministry need to see you run to the Bible for guidance, answers, and instruction for doctrine and godliness. When kids ask questions of a theological nature, let them hear you say, “Let’s see what the Bible has to say about this,” rather than “Well, here’s what I think about this.” They need to see not only the supremacy of the Bible, but also the sufficiency of the Bible in your life.

Augustine once said, “Where the Bible speaks, God speaks.” Teach this. But let it also be true, “Where the Bible speaks, I speak” in the sense that when it comes to thinking through things about God, salvation, and life in general the Bible is our guide. We speak where the Bible speaks.

And the kids in your ministry need to see your passion and love for the Bible. I tell my volunteers that the kids may not understand everything we teach them, but they won’t be able to miss our disposition toward the Bible. If we are apathetic toward the Bible, it will show. We want to pass on a passion for God’s Word. At bare minimum, I expect kids in my ministry to leave knowing that I love the Bible.

3. Show the Kids You Love the Gospel

Most importantly, show the gospel to kids through your words and actions. Let your words be seasoned with grace. Take sin seriously. Extend grace extravagantly. Teach forgiveness. Ask forgiveness when necessary.

All roads in the Bible lead to Jesus. The key is learning how to navigate through the historical and literary contexts without abandoning the original intent of the biblical authors. And we want to point to Jesus in all of our lessons.

But it doesn’t take a biblical scholar to show your love for Jesus. Show that Jesus isn’t just a mythical figure trapped in an ancient book through your white-hot love for and devotion to him.

Show the gospel in your actions. Show that it isn’t just a message of empty words, but a message of power from a holy and gracious God.

Effective teaching in children’s ministry is not limited to these three expectations, but they are foundational. Without them, you can use as many methods as you like, but you will not capture their minds or pierce their hearts. Show the kids in your ministry these three basic loves, and you will experience more joy as a leader or volunteer, as the gospel will come alive in your ministry.

19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.


My Favorite Theology Resources for Kids

Earlier this week I shared ten of my favorite Bible resources for kids. Each of those resources serve the purpose of introducing kids to the Bible. My list included story Bibles, “big picture” Bible books, Bibles aimed at children, family devotionals, and a Bible study resource.

Introducing children to the Bible is only part of telling the next generation of the glory of the Lord (Ps. 78). It’s also important to introduce children to Christian theology. I’m actually convinced that teaching children a biblically and historically rooted theological framework is more effective than teaching Bible content and stories.

We don’t just want to introduce our children to an ancient book. We want to introduce our children to the eternal God who inspired the book. We want to introduce our children to the specific elements and implications of the Christian faith. We want them to learn and know words like gospel, salvation, grace, faith, justification, sanctification, holiness, and obedience. We want our kids to know God, so we need an organized framework or system that clearly explains who God has revealed himself to be.

The psalmist exhorted the Israelites to tell their children of the wondrous deeds of the Lord. We do this by reading the Bible and teaching them the deep things of God.

I can think of few more daunting tasks than attempting to explain big truths to young minds. Explaining the Trinity or the relationship between justification and sanctification are frightening prospects. But we know how crucial and immediately practical it is to teach our kids they and everyone else in the world are made in the image of God.

As parents, we feel the equally heavy weights of importance and difficulty in teaching Christian theology to our kids. We recognize our need for help. Thankfully, there are many resources available to do just that.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of ten of my favorite theology resources for kids. The books are listed in no particular order. Most of them are best suited for children ages 6-12, though children younger and older can benefit from them.

  1. The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New | Marty Machowski
    • Machowski takes on a massive task in writing what amounts to a systematic theology for kids. It is creative, fun, accessible, simple, and rich with deep truth.
  2. God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story of God’s Delightfully Different Family | Trillia Newbell
    • I’m so thankful for Trillia Newbell has extended her voice and ministry to children and families. Her new book should be required reading for all children’s ministries and all Christian families. She teaches idea of imago Dei and the beautiful diversity that God has created in the world and church. Click the link and buy two copies. One for your family and one for another family!
  3. The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds
    • I love catechesis and catechisms. I’ve even developed a catechism myself. I think they are sadly missing in many churches and families. It has become a lost tradition in the church. I’m praying a widespread return to catechesis is imminent with the publication of The New City Catechism. This book is perfect for morning, evening, or bedtime devotions.
  4. The New City Catechism Devotional: God’s Truth for Our Hearts and Minds | edited by Collin Hansen
    • This devotional pairs wonderfully with The New City Catechism.
  5. The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith | Champ Thornton
    • Champ Thornton’s book will easily become your child’s favorite book. It’s exciting, interesting, and thought-provoking. It covers a plethora of topics related to the Bible, history, worldview, and theology. Truly, your kids will love this book!
  6. The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross | Carl Laferton
    • Last Easter, I used this book with the preschoolers and elementary aged children at my church. It shows the historical and theological significance of the cross through story. The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross is a biblical theology of sorts. It shows how what was lost in the Fall was restored in the cross. Grab a copy to teach the gospel story in a  simple, straightforward way.
  7. Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing | Sally Lloyd-Jones
    • Sally Lloyd-Jones is an amazing story-teller. This book will help your kids stand in awe of the majesty of God.
  8. God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies | Justin & Lindsey Holcomb
    • This is one of those books I wish we didn’t need, but so glad we have. I don’t have to advocate for the importance of teaching our children how to protect their bodies, but I know those conversations can be paralyzing. This book is an easy conversation starter that I pray helps protect many children from abuse.
  9. Everything a Child Should Know About God | Kenneth Taylor
    • This is another book that teaches big truths to young minds in a simple, yet significant way. It walks through much of Christian theology in a child-friendly manner. It’s a great tool that can easily be plugged into times of family worship.
  10. The Pilgrim’s Progress | John Bunyan
    • My list wouldn’t be complete without one of the most read books in history. The Pilgrim’s Progress  is an amazing story that vividly teaches readers about the Christian faith and life. I look forward with joy to the day I can read this great book to my boys. If your kids are learning to read, I can’t think of a better bedtime story to begin.

What would you add?

19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Just Go to Church

We hear the mantra, “Don’t go to church, be the church” so much I fear it diminishes the importance of church attendance. We lament churches who care about numbers disproportionately so much that we lose sight of the spiritual significance of just showing up. The Christian life is more than going to church, but it’s certainly not less.

Church attendance almost feels lame. We don’t want to be “that guy” who boasts in his impeccable Sunday School attendance while spending the rest of the week bowing at the altar of the culture. We don’t want to be the snooty and grumpy old woman who has her own personal attendance roll in her purse next to her tissues and peppermint candy. We don’t want to be known as the parents who have their kids “in church” to justify the absence of discipleship in the home. We rightly despise the legalistic judgments of those who gauge a person’s entire relationship with Jesus based on how many Sundays they attend each month.

I get it. I really do. I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be a faithful church attender and a failed disciple.

But I hope you and I both see the beauty and glory in ordinary regular church attendance. Just showing up on Sunday mornings proves momentous for the spiritual growth of individuals in the church and the church as a whole. There is something uniquely heart-warming about seeing the same people in the same place gathered for the same purpose every week.

My grandfather has season tickets to Kentucky men’s basketball games. Growing up, I went to many Kentucky games with him at Rupp Arena. I became familiar with other season ticket holders that sat next to us and behind us. I knew only one thing about them, that they, like me, loved Kentucky and wanted them to win. But that one frivolous commonality caused me to feel affection for these people when I had to stand up to let them walk by me to their seats. I was glad to see them. I was glad to cheer and boo with them. I didn’t care about their character or personal lives. I enjoyed being with them because of the one thing we had in common.

We make church too difficult. If others in our church haven’t texted, called, or spoken to us in a while outside of our Sunday morning gatherings, we almost intentionally keep ourselves from enjoying their presence. We look around the room and start making judgments on one another. When we do this, we miss out on the simple beauty of the gathered church.

When you meet with your faith family on a Sunday morning, try to take in the radically ordinary elements. Notice where people sit. Remember they are broken sinners in need of grace just like you. Remember they are in the same place as you because they too believe in the mission of your local church.

We tend to thank people in the church who lead or serve in loud or important ways. We thank the preaching pastor. We thank the worship pastor and worship team. We thank nursery servants. But when was the last time you thanked a fellow church member just for showing up? When was the last time you said, “Thank you for being here. Your presence brought me joy today”?

I know I’ve never done that. I’ve never thanked someone for showing up. I never have because I’ve never thought much about even being thankful for their presence.

But I can tell you that on a Sunday after a tough week of ministry or family life, I’ve been genuinely refreshed by the mere presence of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ve learned that some weeks my heart needs a handshake and joke from Mr. Tommy more than a sermon from John Piper.

Christians go to church because we recognize our need for community. We go to church because our people are there. As I’ve seen pastor David Prince tweet many times, “The gathered church is a weekly family reunion.”

The fellowship element of a service is incredibly spiritual. Hugs, handshakes, tears, and laughs build the church up in the gospel.

We sing and listen to the Word preached and partake of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper with and for one another, even if we aren’t close friends outside of church.

So, just go to church.

Just go to church to be reminded of the gospel, because you are prone to forget.

Just go to church to sing the gospel to and with one another.

Just go to church to pray for and with one another.

Just go to church to read and listen to the preached Word with one another.

Just go to church to carry out a common mission with one another.

Just go to church. Not to have an individual spiritual experience, but to share in the spiritual experience of worship with your family. Even if you don’t feel close to the people in the room, you are eternally bound to them in Christ. They are your brothers and sisters.

One of the best way you can serve your church is by just showing up. One of the best ways to be the church is to go to church. Build someone up in the gospel this week just by going to church.

Show up. Shake hands. Sing. Pray. Read. Listen. Together.

19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Don’t Just Pray for Your Pastor

I hope you pray for your pastors and elders. I really do. As a pastor and elder at my church, I know how much our pastors and elders depend on and covet the prayers of our people. The church is not an organization where leaders give and followers receive. Pastors aren’t performers, nor are they caterers. Pastors aren’t called to put on a show for their people, nor are they called to cater to their people’s preferences. Pastors are called to shepherd God’s flock according to God’s Word in the power of God’s Spirit.

It is a noble, humbling, and daunting task. Pastors often feel the weight of the spiritual needs of their people as well as the needs of their own families. And they often hold these weights in tension. At times it can feel like the better husband and father I am, the worse pastor I am, and vice-versa. When pastors labor for hours over the Word and spend time texting, calling, and visiting their people, that is time away from their families. And when pastors give significant time to their families, they feel guilty for not spending as much time meeting with others in the church. Many pastors wade in a pool of guilt as they try to manage ministry time and family time.

Faithful pastors are also usually the world’s worst for taking time off. Most of us are just wired to work and tirelessly give ourselves for the sake of others. Pastors are often perpetually tired–physically, mentally, and emotionally. Pastors experience waves of emotions throughout any given week. They face encouragement and criticism. They see joys and pains. They witness growth and moral lapses. Some faithful members leave for jobs and others leave in anger. Both produce tears in a loving pastor.

Pastors also preach a mix of good and bad sermons. And I can assure you that no one is a bigger critic of a sermon than the one preaching it. There isn’t really a sense of accomplishment in the pastor’s work. There are few tasks that can be started and finished in a short period of time. Even when a sermon is finished and preached, there’s another one coming next week. So, it’s really tough for a pastor to rest.

Granted, many pastors bring these problems on themselves. Pastors need to become experts on time management. Pastors need to be intentional about balancing ministry and family time. Pastors need to carve out time for personal rest, and they should be taking serious care of their minds, hearts, and bodies. However, unless the pastor intentionally seeks out rest and care, there often isn’t much pastoral care for the pastor in the church. While the pastor often preaches the gospel to others, he usually has few if any people in his life who preach the gospel to him.

I don’t mean to throw a pity-party on behalf of myself and my brother pastors. I hope you’re not feeling sorry for your pastor or rolling your eyes at me. Healthy pastors find strange joy in the burdens of ministry. Like Paul, they are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Many pastors love their work and their people deeply. My purpose in writing is simply to get you thinking about the stress your pastor is under every single week. I hope you are aware of this, and it compels you to pray for your pastor.

Saturday is a great day to pray for your pastors and elders, especially your preaching pastor. As much as we all work to have our sermons finished before the weekend, many pastors are still cleaning up their sermons on Saturday night. I’ve finished a sermon at 1:30 AM on a Sunday morning. And I don’t even preach on a weekly basis. It happens. And when it happens, I can assure you that your pastor is tired and in need of the prayers of his people.

What an excellent practice it would be to pray for your pastor with your children, spouse, or friends on a Saturday night. What an excellent practice it would be to text your small group and remind them to pray for your pastor. What if you called another church member and decided to intercede for your pastor on a Saturday afternoon? God uses prayer to accomplish his purposes. I wonder how different a Sunday morning would look if the church was intentionally praying for the service the day before.

But I hope you do more than pray. Praying for your pastor should be a given. It’s honestly the least we can do. Your pastor needs more than your prayers. He needs your words. He needs to hear from you. He needs you to encourage and exhort him. Consider ways you can serve your pastor and his family with your words and service. You could offer to watch his children so he and his wife can go on a date. Maybe you could take your pastor out to lunch and share ways his ministry has impacted you. You could even simply be engaged and involved on a Sunday morning. Or at least try not to fall asleep! Paul knows what I’m talking about (Acts 20:9)! And be creative! Have a spirit of humility and service among everyone in the body of Christ, including your pastor.

Apart from general encouragement and acts of service, your pastor also needs something you may not think he needs. He needs you to remind him of the gospel. I know it’s ironic, but it’s really easy for a pastor to forget the gospel–not the content, but the benefits. The nature of a pastor’s work makes it easy for him to find his worth in the approval of his people. It’s sinful when he does so, but it’s easy for a pastor to find identity in how well he preaches, teaches, and counsels. Your pastor needs the gospel just as much as you. What a blessing it is to a pastor to be reminded of the gospel by his people.

It’s Saturday. Your pastor may be chilling with his family not thinking about his sermon or Sunday morning at all. He may be totally content and satisfied with his work. He may not be worried about certain suffering individuals or families in his flock. He may be. But don’t assume it. It’s more likely that his mind is consumed with Sunday morning–both the service and the people. His sermon may not be finished. He may be having a challenging day as a parent. He may be arguing with his wife. He may be burdened by a difficult Bible passage. He may have just received a hurtful phone call, text, or email. And he may just be having a bad day.

Pastors need their people. They need the prayers of the saints. But don’t just pray for your pastor. Encourage him. Exhort him. Love him. Serve him. Remind him of the gospel. Watch how the Spirit will use your resolve to intercede and serve your pastor as he seeks to shepherd you well.

19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Confessions of a Young Preacher

So, here’s a confession: I’m a young preacher who is learning on the job. My homiletical, communication, exegetical, and expositional skills are still raw and in need of much grooming. I learn far more than I teach every time I stand to proclaim the gospel on a Sunday morning. With each sermon I preach, I learn more about God, the gospel, preaching preparation and delivery, and just how much I need the grace of God and the patience of the people who sit under my preaching. God bless anyone who sit under the preaching of raw preachers like me! We are often passionate, eager, excited, naive, and inexperienced.

There are already things I’ve said in sermons I would never say again, and there are things I’ve said I would definitely say differently. I resonate with Tim Keller when he says the first 200 sermons a preacher preaches will be terrible. I find comfort in this no matter how much the people who sit under the 200 sermon threshold may cringe. The good news for every young preacher like me is that the edification and sanctification of those under our preaching is not ultimately dependent on our preaching abilities, but on the Word that we are preaching. I’m thankful God uses us not only despite our deficiencies, but also through them.

Any preacher, young or old, who faithfully preaches the Word as it was revealed is a competent preacher. Sermon preparation, writing, and delivery skills will develop over time (at least I hope!). But when a preacher preaches the Word, it is the Word that will not return void, not the sermon.

One of the things I am learning as I hone my preaching skills is that preaching can be simple without being childish. Preaching can be both deep and clear. Preaching should be both deep and clear. There is a tendency among preachers in my particular theological camp to give a running commentary on a passage to expose exegetical truths while offering solid theological points along the way. In the process, many of us fail miserably at application. And preaching that doesn’t include application is, well, not preaching.

I believe this is why so many young preachers like me are tempted to draw so heavily on the work of other preachers we follow. In fact, we want to interpret and teach a passage correctly so much that we are tempted to just borrow from the sermons of these preachers. How many of Tim Keller’s sermons have been preached outside of Redeemer Presbyterian? Good intentions that end in plagiarism are still sinful and lazy.

The church is best served by a pastor who labors over the text and seeks to faithfully expose its meaning. Even though the man who wrote the sermon may have wonderfully exposited the text, the man preaching the sermon did not and was not personally impacted by the text. Part of the impact of the sermon is the passion of the preacher who has been overwhelmed by the grandeur of the text he is preaching. This is lost when a preacher preaches someone else’s sermon. Remember, pastor, you are God’s man for the local church you are shepherding. As helpful as Piper and Keller are, they do not know your people. You do. God has called you and will use your unique abilities to preach the riches of God’s grace in Christ week in and week out.

With that said, it is vital for preachers to continue to grow. Growing as a preacher begins with humility. Be keenly aware of your weaknesses and be willing for a seasoned pastor you trust to speak into you. I’m grateful to God that he has called me to serve alongside a faithful and gifted expositor. Put down your guard and allow the arrows of healthy, loving, and biblical criticism to pierce your heart. It hurts to be told where you are weak, but nothing will benefit your preaching like listening to criticism with an open and humble heart.

Preaching is hard work. I’ve never been more spiritually and physically exhausted than after prepping for a sermon and then preaching it. My wife can attest to the turmoil that rages in my soul on a Monday morning after preaching on Sunday. However, the joy I feel in preaching is hard to describe and even harder to exaggerate. I count it a privilege and joy to proclaim the gospel and help people see and savor the greatness and grace of the God who is and speaks and saves. Every growth pain is worthwhile.

19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.

Morning Mashup 09/30


A Quick and Easy Guide to the Planned Parenthood Videos – Shameful silence from the mainstream media. Mollie Hemingway helps them do their jobs.

I Don’t Want Your Good Vibes. I Want Prayer. – Megan Hill: “There’s no substitute for our communion with the Father.”

Speak for the Unborn Leader Pleads for Life – Great look at the work of Andrew King and Speak for the Unborn.

Every Living Thing Matters – “The Every Living Thing Campaign invites Christians to celebrate the wonder and beauty of God’s creation and commit to compassionate living by signing the Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals.”

Lies, Carly Fiorina and Abortion – Ross Douthat: “There has been an impressive amount of angry liberal commentary, which has spilled over into the mainstream press coverage (or do I repeat myself?) of the issue, about how in the last Republican presidential debate Carly Fiorina allegedly cited an entirely imaginary video in order to make a crazy claim about Planned Parenthood’s brain-harvesting ghoulishness that’s totally unsupported by the facts.”

Pope Francis Met Privately with Kim Davis – “The Pope met privately with Kim Davis and her husband, Joe, at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C.”

Chipotle Church and the Problem of Choice – Brett McCracken: “Imagine if God were as fickle and restless as we are. But he isn’t. God’s covenant faithfulness to his people, even when the relationship is messy and embarrassing, should be instructive to us. A healthy relationship with the local church is like a healthy marriage: it only works when grounded in selfless commitment and non-consumerist covenant.”

When You Get Home…? – Consider asking your spouse what they want in those first few minutes you get home from work.

4 Tips for Using a Study Bible Well – Helpful article from Justin Taylor. If you use a study Bible, be sure to check it out.

If a preacher isn’t first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the pulpit steps and breaks his neck than preach that sermon. –John Calvin

Morning Mashup 09/16


A mashup of articles for your information, edification, entertainment, and enjoyment.

A Call for Hope in the Age of Mass Incarceration – Thabiti Anyabwile observes and exposes the reality that most opponents of mass incarceration offer little hope by simply stating the problem. He writes, “Black families affected by mass incarceration need hope that’s stronger than the vicissitudes of this life, built on better promises than social policy can offer. Inner-city communities need hope that places its members’ happiness beyond the reach of their enemies. Vulnerable families need hope stronger than the death that’s so frequently dealt out in its homes and hamlets.”

Dear Mama of Littles – A beautiful article for my wife and all other “Mamas of littles.”

Technology and the Truth about the Viability of the Unborn – Dan Darling: “Either technology will force us to face the truth about abortion, or it will force us to admit we know what we are doing: taking innocent human life.”

The Art of Conferencing – As a children’s pastor, I highly recommend this historically proven method of discipleship in the home.

Why We Must Recover the Master of Divinity Degree – Jason Allen of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary ushers a resounding call for the recovery of a robust and thorough Master of Divinity Degree. His closing spoke to me: “The call to the ministry is indeed the most glorious calling known to man. All whom God has called must be optimally prepared to serve him. Don’t settle for the quickest or easiest degree; aim for being maximally prepared for a lifetime of faithful ministry. Completing the Master of Divinity degree does not ensure a faithful ministry, but it does best position one for it. If at all possible, don’t settle for anything less.”

20 Funny and Strange Things Church Members Say – Pastors and staff were informally polled on Twitter by Thom Rainer to come up with this list. Surely you’ve never said any of these things, right?

Is Suicide and Unforgivable Sin that Will Send You to Hell? – An interesting approach to a sensitive question.

Co-Founder of Subway Restaurant Chain Dies at 67 – Within this NY Times piece is an interesting story about the beginnings of Subway.

Why Can’t Novak Djokovic Get Some Respect? – The title is a bit misleading. Djokovic has tons of respect, but he’s definitely not the darling of men’s tennis quite yet. Our love affair with Federer still rages on. This is odd and unfortunate because Djokovic is insanely talented, a ten-fold Grand Slam champion, and a seemingly likable dude.

Jesus is the first and last person in history to be told that obedience would bring a curse. –Tim Keller

Quick Quotes: 10 Quotes from “Family Ministry Field Guide” by Timothy Paul Jones

Q-train-logoEvery Friday, I plan to share select quotes from a book I am either currently reading or have previously read. Few things have impacted my faith and life as much as reading has. This will be just one way I promote books and reading. These articles will be for the dedicated reader who loves to gain insight from as many books as possible. They will also be for the Christian looking for new books to read. I am always on the lookout for new books to read. Hopefully some things I share will lead you to pick up a new book. Finally, these articles will be for those of you too busy to read. Hopefully these quick quotes will provide you with easy access to books you would otherwise not have time to read. Each article will include a brief discussion of the author and his work followed by ten (or more) pertinent quotes from the book.

One of the major concerns within youth ministry is how to make connections. How can we connect the Ancient Near Eastern culture to children and teenagers living in 21st century post-modern America? How can we connect unchanging biblical truth with young people who are changing by the minute? But most importantly, how can we connect children’s ministry to youth ministry? And how can we connect all youth ministries to the rest of the local body?

Youth ministry in many churches is like a remote island. Once who arrive, you can’t get off. But once you leave, you are lost at sea. Most adults in the church, including parents, want to avoid youth ministry. Youth ministers are held responsible for the spiritual development of each student, while parents forsake their God-given responsibility to train their children in the way of the Lord. This is a problem in many churches; a problem many churches want to see solved.

According to author and professor Timothy Paul Jones, there is hope in the darkness of the disconnect. Jones believes the hope for the disconnect between youth and the church is family ministry. If churches want to learn about and implement family ministry in the life of your church, be prepared not for another program, but for a paradigm shift in the way you do ministry. In other words, if you are allergic to change, avoid Jones’ books.

Jones has written many books on family ministry. He teaches a course at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary called “Discipleship and Family Ministry,” a class I am currently taking. His book Family Ministry Field Guide is a great starting point if you desire to bridge the gap and connect the break between youth and the rest of the church.

81uAJdfC81LFamily Ministry Field Guide is a call to gospel-centered family ministry, an endeavor that if undertaken would no doubt radically transform the ministries in your church. But this change is not the result of Jones’ expertise, which he clearly possesses. It would be the result of the power of the gospel that is the focus of everything Jones calls for. Here are ten quotes to whet your appetite:

1. Family ministry is the process of intentionally and persistently coordinating a ministry’s proclamation and practices so that parents are acknowledged, trained, and held accountable as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives.

2. Family ministry is a process of equipping parents to engage actively in the discipleship of their children.

3. What does it profit our child to gain a baseball scholarship and yet never experience consistent prayer and devotional times with us, the parents?

4. If the scope of our vision for our lives or for the lives of our children shrinks any smaller than eternity, our thirst for eternity will drive us to attempt to fill the emptiness with a multitude of lesser goals and lower gods–including the fleeting happiness and success of our children.

5. Until the gospel drives even our scheduling priorities, families will continue to default to the values of the culture around them, and parents will remain too busy to engage in intentional discipleship with their children.

6. Think about gradually changing the culture of a ministry so that parental discipleship of children becomes the norm instead of the exception.

7. The people of God are shaped and defined by Jesus Christ himself, who unites individuals that the world would never dream of bringing together–but not by clustering them in categories of age or special interest or musical preference.

8. Gospel-centered family ministry has more to do with the unseen foundations than with the visible practices.

9. Family ministry cannot merely be a series of activities that a congregation does. It must flow from who the leaders and volunteers are with their families, day by day.

10. Our families must never become our identity or the identity that drives our ministries. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, he is your identity…His gospel has set an ax to the root of any pretense that we are who we are because of our families. To position anything other than this gospel as the focus of your ministry is to lapse into idolatry.

11751958_1209158262442953_3486622930933138849_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Morning Mashup 08/12


How to Survive a Cultural Crisis – Mark Dever offers seven biblical principles for how Christians should respond when the culture shifts.

Reflections on Pastoral Leadership – I try to read everything D.A. Carson writes. Here he writes of the importance of pastoral leadership.

How Abortion Kills the Future – Joe Carter: “‘For the last 30 years, I’ve supported abortion rights,’ says Ruben Navarrette Jr., a columnist for The Daily Beast. ‘This year may be different.'”

Review of Keller’s “Preaching” – Dane Ortlund’s review of Keller’s masterful book on preaching begins with this sentence, “Tim Keller got a C in preaching at Westminster Seminary in the early 1970s.” That’s all you need to know. Click away.

Sex is More and Less Important than What You Think – Trevin Wax with excellent balance on one of the most misrepresented and misunderstood aspects of humanity–human sexuality.

“Shut Up, Bigot!” – “Postmodern liberals cannot comprehend the idea that one could simultaneously reject a belief and accept the person who holds it.”

No Girls Allowed – Barnabas Piper calls male sports fans like myself to leave the “no girls allowed” sign in the treehouse as he asks, “Why does the idea of a woman coaching your favorite team bother you?”

Tim Keller Sermons – You can find around 90% of Keller’s sermons here. Wow.

Unfinished Story by JRR Tolkien to be Published – I’m in book nerd heaven now. I can’t wait to get my hands on this.

We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence. –C.S. Lewis

Review: Next

Next Book CoverWilliam Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird. Next: Pastoral Succession that Works. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014). 224 pp. $15.68 on Amazon

When approaching delicate and important topics, Christian authors must be careful to present a healthy balance between accurate observation of a problem while providing a robust and clear biblical answer. By no means are Christian authors expected to come up with every answer to every problem related to the problem, nor are any other authors. But I always look for two things when reading the work of a pastor or Christian leader. (1) Does this person understand the reality of the situation and has he engaged it with adequate research and understanding? (2) Does this person approach this situation from a Christian worldview carried along by biblical truth?

In the case of Next: Pastoral Succession that Works, it seems that the authors understand the problem, but the basis for their solution does not in fact work with the biblical witness.

Helpful Principles, Healthy Practices

Vanderbloemen and Bird have undertaken a topic that most if not all pastors and churches either are or should be concerned about. How do we healthily, helpfully, and successfully transition from one pastor to the next? Many churches are blind to the hardships and difficulties that come with pastoral succession because they are content with the comfort of their current pastor. Many of us are drifting away in Margaritaville while just around the bend a hurricane is brewing. Most of us are not ready for pastoral succession, and the authors do a great job of awakening readers to this reality. They seem to understand the seriousness of the problem and what an unhealthy pastoral change can do to a church.

This is made evident in the extensiveness of their research (12). Their intentions are good and their clear and vast understanding and experiences with the problem lead to careful calling for succession plans in all churches. Their primary example at the close of the Preface proved prophetic as they explained Mark Driscoll’s desire to pastor Mars Hill Church until he is 75, yet his initiative to put in an “emergency succession” plan “should an unforeseen situation arise” (15). While what happened with Driscoll and Mars Hill was more tragic than typical pastoral successions, the point is well made: be ready for change, it could happen at any moment.

Next provides helpful and practical ways to implement a succession plan. At the close of each chapter, the authors even offer specific steps to take for pastors and church boards. They also offer helpful principles for succession, especially in chapter two with the exposition of the “ten commandments of succession planning” (32-35). The authors all but exhaust the many ways succession can happen and explain what others are doing and have done in each of these scenarios while offering excellent leadership principles to prepare for and weather the storms of change.

For example, they discuss some of the most complex issues in succession like “founder’s syndrome,” which is the problem with the passing of the baton from not just the pastor of the church, but also the founding pastor. He also approaches touchy topics like “unintentional interims” (130-138) and “forced farewells” (139-144).

After chapters of explanation of the deep problems involved with pastoral succession, the authors move to pointed and clear guidance in how to create successful succession. They provide a helpful discussion of where to find a successor where they promote “internal candidates” as the best candidates for healthy and smooth transition (149). The authors also discuss the financial side of succession giving helpful insight into the cost of pastoral transition.

Swing and a Miss

Despite all of these strengths, there is a weakness that stands out like the proverbial elephant in the room. It was honestly upsetting and caused this reader to all but discount all the authors had previously written. At minimum, the author’s principles must be seen in light of a great erroneous and unbiblical idea of pastoral success. This weakness goes to the heart of the book. Next is all about successful pastoral succession. And while they thread many helpful principles throughout the book, their idea of success is trepid and shallow.

Success to these authors is viewed in terms of attendance and giving. More people, more money, more success. This has been my longstanding criticism of leadership pastoral models promoted by guys like Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, and Bill Hybels. What is success to these guys? And while the authors are not necessarily identified with Stanley and company, their idea of success is almost exclusively measured by the number of people in the seats and the amount of money in the plate.

One example of a successful pastoral succession given in the book was that of Lakewood Church. The authors give the details of younger Osteen (Joel) succeeding older Osteen (John). Then, they conclude,

The rarity of the success is only further compounded by John’s death in office, a circumstance where most successions fail. Yet Joel Osteen made headlines and history books. He demonstrates powerfully that sometimes even the unlikeliest candidates can become pastoral successors with amazing results. His favor in the city of Houston and the church at large is unprecedented. Despite Joel drawing critics from many corners, nearly everyone would agree that the transition from John Osteen to Joel Osteen as pastor of Lakewood has been nothing short of remarkable (91).

Lakewood’s transition is a model for successful transition in the minds of these authors. The reason? Lakewood boasts their numbers in the tens of thousands. It is astonishing how the authors define success solely in terms of attendance and “favor” among members. Based on any biblical scale whatsoever, Osteen and Lakewood are not success stories; they are disastrous bastions of a false gospel. Thousands of people gather in the name of Christ at Lakewood and under Osteen to hear false teaching. Does that sound like a success story? Osteen may have “found a heart in his home” for preaching (90), but somewhere along the way he lost the gospel.

One thing we can learn from this unfortunate and upsetting conclusion by the authors is that churches can grow and appear successful while totally missing the gospel. I feared this was where the authors were heading as I was reading, but hoped they would remain faithful to biblical definitions for pastoral and ministry success. They claim pastoral succession must be Spirit-led and believe God uses “people and systems in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to help build leadership teams in the church” (26).

Great intentions are meaningless when they lack substance. What is truly remarkable is the authors’ ability to see “Spirit-led” succession in places that reject the sword of the Spirit. This was a tragic and deep error in an otherwise helpful book.

Readers should approach Next with trepidation. I would recommend the authors’ description and discussion of the various situations involved in pastoral succession along with their premise that churches need to prepare for succession even when it is not in sight. I agree, “Every pastor is an interim pastor” (9). But readers must look elsewhere for the definition of success in ministry. Pastoral and ministry success aren’t defined by numbers, either in the pew or the plate. Pastoral and ministry success are defined by Christ, the Chief Shepherd all pastors will ultimately answer to (1 Peter 5:4).

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.