Written by Dave Carl, Family Ministry Pastor at Stonebriar Community Church
Our philosophy for our Family Ministry is well over three thousand years old. It is to raise up kids and parents to love God and love others (Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19:18). If this is not the goal of a given ministry or church—panic.
I know of and have attended churches whose primary means of ministry is behavior modification. Otherwise known as “Behave yourself or bad things will happen.” With this plan, Christlikeness is equated with behavior, and behavior can be evaluated easily and punishments enforced when necessary. It makes things clean and clear, so it is a favorite model for many. It only takes a few moments, however, to realize that I can behave in a way that I personally do not agree with or believe in. A hypocrite is someone who acts in a way that is false to who they really are inside. Behavior is NOT the only goal for a disciple of Christ. Behavior has its place in the process, but since it can be faked, by itself, it is a very poor standard for success. Discipleship with Christ is much more complicated than controlling behavior, and the process is dramatically different.
In the last few years, I have put a lot of prayer, thought, research, consultation, and time looking at how we teach and train the children (and their parents) at Stonebriar. While we were not too far off the mark, there is definitely a need for a modified change in direction. It is also enough change that I want to share the details and paint a picture that might be different from how most parents and ministry leaders have viewed their roles in the past.
Who loves you?
As we begin in Early Childhood, we work to flood the kids with the two messages of “The Bible is true” and “God loves YOU.” It may seem overly simple, but with this foundation, kids know that when they hear a Bible story told (every week) it is not a myth, fable, or morality play. It is God’s Word, and every story tells us more about God and it is all TRUE. Secondly, the fact that God loves us sets the table for understanding that our relationship with Him is much more based on Him than us. God has moved and loved first, and we can respond to His invitation. We can pray to this loving God confident that He wants to hear from us. We can obey Him with confidence because His commands are there to get us into His arms and keep us there. This simple world view will affect how the kids see everything for the rest of their lives.
What do you love?
A focus on what one loves is far more profound than majoring on behavior alone. If a kid (or parent) loves God, he or she will naturally move towards Him whether life is a breeze or a battle. In the Elementary school stage, Bible knowledge is super important, but it is not the ultimate goal. We train the kids to know their Bible so that they can know who their God is and what He has done, which will set the table to truly love and follow God. This requires more than classroom instruction. We are after the beginnings of discipleship, which include activities inside the building and out. This approach requires an exploration of God’s world as well as creative and engaging instruction of His Word. All of this is effective only when it is done alongside adults who are themselves in love with God and wanting to love Him more. We are always in need of more adults like this. These adults are in fact the “Secret Sauce” for any ministry. We are not raising up soldiers who will comply and achieve; we are raising up disciples who love God with everything they have.
When working with a preteen, we begin to assist the kids to internalize what they believe by challenging them with new concepts, situations, and opportunities to take action in their faith. Here we begin to serve others in simple and low impact ways. At this age, preteens are beginning to think for themselves, and we want to encourage them to voice concerns, challenge our beliefs, and argue for other points of view. God’s truth is not intimidated by discussion or disagreement. We want to be the place where preteens can try on new thoughts and be gently guided back to God’s truth. This is also a great age where the preteen can to begin serving in programs such as our Y.E.S. (Youth Engaged in Serving) program. Disciples don’t just learn, they get into action, too.
Middle school is the launch pad to adventure and new levels of seeing Jesus. Here we call the kids to step up to engage through higher levels of thinking and discussion of God and the world around them. Our highest goal is not protection, but arming them with Scripture and love to go out into a dark world to rescue and protect others who either do not know God or have confused and incorrect views of Him. In rather safe and controlled ways, we invite the kids (and parents) to go into situations where risk is present and sacrifice is required. This is the pre-boot camp of Family Ministry.
High school is the springboard into life as an adult. If you go into the world thinking success is the ultimate goal, you will, by definition, not be a disciple of Christ. At this stage our focus is certainly on scripture but also on preparing students to go out into the world to take back people and ground that Satan has captured. High school is our “spiritual boot camp.” As our Student Ministry Pastor Nathan Kocurek says, “Relationship is not the goal but it is the vehicle to get to the goal of loving God and others.” Making friends, keeping friends, and having healthy, beneficial relationships are critical components of our ministry plan.
Our strategy is to encourage a higher level of risk and sacrifice through local service opportunities as well as national and international mission trips. Everything we do is built on the foundation of consistent Biblical teaching about our call to love God with everything we have and love others as ourselves with enthusiasm, even when there is a cost to us personally.
High school is also the stage of life where the temptations of the world loom large and opportunities to give in are everywhere and seem to have very few consequences. Rather than making behavior the main thing, our strategy is to draw them to understand that sin is separation from God. Now if you don’t much like God to begin with or you find Him rather inconvenient, then separation from God is not a big deal. But if you’ve grown up learning about how much God loves you, if you have had years of training and experience to understand that the “God-ignoring world” is set up to harm you and others through separation from God, sin now begins to look much more toxic than before. If you realize that this unbelieving system is all set up to keep you from working alongside God and altering eternity in the way He has in mind, sin then looks much less like “naughty fun” and very much more like a dark force working for your destruction.
This is our strategy: love God, love others. It is a difficult job, and the outcome is absolutely not certain for anyone, but we are wholly committed to setting the table for your child (and you) to come to see God more the way the disciples did, and more the way Jesus did.
P.S. In the process, we are always looking for adults who want to be on this journey, too, to come with us and guide some kids along the way.
Dave Carl is the Family Ministry Pastor at Stonebriar Community Church and is responsible for the ministry focusing on children birth through graduation and the parents who love them. With a ministry philosophy based on Luke 10:27, his primary focus is to give parents the skills to raise kids who truly love Jesus and want to serve others. Dave has a passion for ministering to families in crisis in our community. He has spent several years pouring into fathers and husbands and helping them learn that they need community, were designed to guard and protect, and that they really can be the spiritual leaders of their family.
Dave and his wife of 30 plus years, Cathy, have two adult children and one in high school and recently became grandparents for the first time. They are completely in love with this new member of their family. Dave is an avid woodworker and loves to write. He sees all stories in the form of pictures, and he would love to connect with you!