castle, drawbridge, open

“I want to be part of a church that wants to be part of something.”

These words came from my 17-year-old daughter, Grace. These words have rattled around in my head since they were spoken. They weren’t said out of anger or spite, but frustration at the circumstances in which our family has found itself, not necessarily with our church, but with the unknown. The words hold a double indictment for me, like a gentle one-two punch, if there is such a thing.

The first is an indictment against me as one of the Elders of our church. Our church is only 5 years old. We began the church following the traditional model but over the course of the first three years, we transitioned to the family integrated model.

It was very liberating from a leadership point of view. I was “allowed” to push decisions back down to the parents, where I believe they rightly belong. We didn’t have to recruit Sunday School teachers or Nursery workers. There were no big promotions for Vacation Bible School, no bring a friend to Sunday School Sundays, no need to conduct background checks on our teachers.

I believe putting away these types of programs from our church was the right thing for us to do. I believe God led us to the point where we are today. I also believe I might have encouraged the church to throw some of the babies out with the bath water.

As we wrestled with what it meant to be a family integrated church from a leadership standpoint, I found myself repeating the line “That is up to the fathers to decide for their family.” I loved that line, it was so much fun to say.

“Should we do some kind of church mission project?”
“That is up to the fathers to decide for their family.”

“Should we do some kind of servant evangelism?”
“That is up to the fathers to decide for their family.”

“What should we do to engage with our community?
“That is up to the fathers to decide for their family.”

What we ended up with was a group of families that might or might not be engaged with their culture. I say “might or might not” because I don’t know. I had not only pushed the decision off to the fathers, but I had pushed any connection with their ideas and passions away also. In essence, we have become a church that is filled with families, but we are missing part of the mission. As a church, we have been so busy looking inward, we have forgotten what it looks like outside. We are a church full of busy people, but we are busy with each other and our own families.

As a leader, that realization is disheartening. As a leader, I have failed to engage the other Elders to ignite their passions for winning souls, for counseling the broken, for caring for others, for visiting the widow and the orphan. If anything, I have poured buckets of cold water on the fires that once used to engulf them, simply by not encouraging them in their pursuit of God. It is one thing to say, “If that is what you want to do, then do it. If that is where you want to go, then go” and quite another to say “if that is what you want to do, how can I help? If that is where you want to go, let me go with you.”

The second indictment is against me as the father and leader of my household. In embracing the ideas of family integrated church, I had allowed my family to become disengaged with the world around us. As the father, it is my responsibility to teach my kids how to engage with the culture and community around them without compromising their faith.

I had built a fortress around my household, which isn’t a bad thing, but I had nailed all the windows shut, raised the drawbridge, shut the gate, and filled the moat with sharks that have lasers on their heads. Not only am I keeping the “world” out, but I am also keeping the poor and defenseless out. Where can they go if they cannot come to us for refuge? How can they learn the joy of the Gospel if they can’t get past the sharks?

So where do we go from here? As an Elder I need to fan the flames of passion back to life, maybe even relight a few. I need to lead with conviction and passion for the whole of James 1:27, not just the safe part. I need to work with the other Elders to find common passions and goals for our church body to be engaged in as families. I need to pray, pray, pray, and pray some more.

As a father I need to lower the drawbridge, open the gate and windows, and get rid of the sharks. I need to teach my family what the whole of James 1:27 means in daily life. I need to show them through action how to love those who are unlovely; how to be a refuge for those who are in need; how to be a father to the fatherless and a son to the widow. I need to pray, pray, pray, and pray some more.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
— James 1:27 NIV

light the torches and lower the drawbridge…

by Dave Truman time to read: 5 min
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