Don’t ask about our meetings

For many Christians church is an event. It is a meeting you attend or a place you enter. Churches may talk about being a family, but most of their resources go into the Sunday morning event. Acquiring a building. Preparing the sermon. Producing the bulletin. Equipping a venue with sound and light. Planning the show. Practicing the band. That’s were their money and their staff time go. We talk about being family and community, but when you look at how we spend our time and money it becomes clear that in practice we view church as an event.

People often ask me about our meetings. ‘When do you meet? Where? What do you do when you meet together?’ But if you ask those questions then you have completely missed the point! We’re not advocating a new way of doing meetings. Actually our meetings are not good! The music is poor and the teaching is nothing you’d go out of your way to hear. What matters to us is our shared life: sharing our lives, doing ordinary life with gospel intentionality.

The church will never out perform TV shows and music videos. But there is nothing like the community life of the church. There is nowhere else where diverse people come together. There is nowhere else were broken people find a home. There is nowhere else when grace is experienced. There is nowhere else where God is present by his Spirit.
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Gospel-Centred Family

The Good Book Company have just published a new resource called Gospel-Centred Family purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. This is co-authored by Ed Moll and myself and follows in the same series as Gospel-Centred Church purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US and Gospel-Centred Life. purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

Here’s the Good Book Company’s summary:

Numerous books set out to help Christian parents in the challenging mission of raising their children well-so what’s different about this one? Well, the answer’s in the title! It’s not about how the gospel fits into Christian family life, but how family life should fit into the gospel-God’s greatest purpose for this universe, achieved in Christ.

Many books aim to raise up competent, balanced parents and well-trained, well-rounded children. But Tim Chester and Ed Moll focus on families growing God-knowing, Christ-confessing, grace-receiving, servant-hearted, mission-minded believers-adults and children together.

Christian families should be about…
– not just making good citizens but also church planters, missionaries, reformers, servants and evangelists
– not just learning about God but also showing Him to others;
– not just controlling behaviour but also changing the heart;
– not just parents and children, but being an integral part of the wider church family.

In twelve concise chapters, Gospel-Centred Family takes us through the major Bible principles for family life, challenging us to give up our ‘respectable’ middle-class idols, and to become the distinctively different people that God, through His gospel, calls us to be. Continue reading

Comrades in a battle

Earlier this year when we commemorated the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings. One of the striking things, listening to the stories of those involved, was how they looked back on those times with such fondness. Although they faced the horrors of battle, the experience of comradeship and purpose was so intense that those months were the highlight of their lives. Though they involved just a small proportion of their lifetime, those events had defined their lives. They always were veterans of the Normandy campaign.

Today I came across this quote from 1465 from a French Knight called Jean de Brueil. It’s cited in Michael Frost’s book Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture (Hendrickson/Strand, 2006, 117-118 purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US). De Brueil  wrote:

Battle is a joyous thing. We love each other so much in battle. If we see that our cause is just and our kinsmen fight boldly, tears come to our eyes. A sweet joy rises in our hearts, in the feeling of our honest loyalty to each other; and seeing our friend so bravely exposing his body to danger in order to fulfil the commandment of our Creator, we resolve to go forward and die or live with him on account of love. This brings such delight that anyone who has not felt it cannot say how wonderful it is. Do you think someone who feels this is afraid of death? Not in the least! He is so strengthened, so delighted, that he does not know where he is. Truly, he fears nothing in the world.

I think this represents an important dynamic that we need to capture in the church if we are to evangelise and disciple men – a sense of comradeship, of common purpose of battling together.

Being a father of teenagers Pt 2

Here’s the second part of my notes from John Benton’s seminar on being a father of teenagers at New Word Alive. John’s wife, Ann, has recently published a book on parenting teenagers called Teenagers: Biblical Wisdom for Parents (IVP) purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

A directive for fathers

‘Fathers. Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’ (Ephesians 6:4)

1. The negative command for fathers – don’t exasperate

This does not mean you must never do anything that might make your children angry or upset! Even the most living correction can produce a bad response. It means dealing with our teenagers in a way that will be unnecessarily discouraging or which creates bitterness (Colossians 3:

Here are three short-term sources of exasperation:

1. Setting inappropriate demands. For example, old fashioned and irrelevant rules. You have got to being to let them go and grow. Don’t violate their God-given sense of fairness.

2. Unreasonable discipline. For example, disproportionate punishment or failing to distinguish between clumsiness and disobedience. Teenagers social skills are often poor as they struggle with identity. Mumbling teenagers can embarrass parents, but it is a lack of confidence rather than blatant disobedience.

3. Partiality. Loving the girl rather than the boy or vice versa or giving the younger one breaks the older did not receive or unhelpful comparisons with other people’s children. The message we can give is: ‘I wish you were someone else.’

Long-term sources of exasperation:

1. A failure to exercise discipline. Giving in to prevent the teenager sulking – anything for peace. Children grow up insecure with no boundaries and no self-control. When they go out into the world they can turn on you and feel your failure.

2. Inconsistent example. Urging them make Jesus their Lord when in your life money or comfort or reputation is lord. When we make mistakes we need to have the guts to confess to our teenagers.

3. Promises not kept. The message conveyed is that other things are more important to you than they are.

2. The positive command for fathers – the training and instruction of the Lord

There will always be a pressure on you (because we’re in a spiritual battle) to neglect teaching them the gospel even as we teach them to play chess or ride a bike and so on. You don’t have to teach them to sin. We do not to teach them about the Saviour. This is the primary responsibility of fathers (not the church or the youth group). The time for reaching bed-time stories may be over, but there are many opportunities over meal times or as you watch television and as you discuss real life issues. It may be tempting to say, ‘I’ll let them decide for themselves.’ That communicates that this is unimportant. You don’t say, ‘I’ll them decide for themselves how to cross a road.’ It is not brainwashing to teach children what you know to be true. 

Ann Benton, Teenagers: Biblical Wisdom for Parents (IVP) purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

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Being a father of teenagers Pt 1

John Benton on being a father of teenagers at New Word Alive Pt 1

Here’s another instalment from New Word Alive 2009, this time part one of a seminar by John Benton on being a father of teenagers. John’s wife, Ann, has recently published a book on parenting teenagers called Teenagers: Biblical Wisdom for Parents (IVP) purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

For a variety of reasons many men don’t know any more what they are meant to be as fathers. We may need to learn, or relearn, what fatherhood is about especially when our children move into their teens.

A description of fatherhood (1 Thessalonians 2:11)

‘For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.’ (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

In 1 Thessalonians 2 Paul describes his ministry among the Thessalonian church using images from fathering and mothering because parents are kind of pastors to their family. So indirectly Paul describes what it means to be a good father.

1. Overall perspective – responsibility

1 Thessalonians 2:11. Fathers initiate (while mothers nurture) and you are responsible for what you initiate. So fathers have authority – not to dominate, but to serve our families. Throughout the Scripture those who initiate (like God in creation) as described as ‘fathers’. So fathers should not abandon their families – either literally or by not getting involved in family life.

2. Fundamental attitude – love

1 Thessalonians 2:8. Love is compassionate in its disposition. Paul tried to avoid being a burden to the Thessalonians (v. 7). Love is self-sacrificing in its out-working (vv. 8-9). Many things go wrong in families, but if our children know they are loved then that is half the battle.

For teenagers this means two things. First, negatively fathers will not seek to use their teenagers as a vehicle for their own ego or respect from others.

Second, positively you will seek to understand where you teenager is up to. Their context is often one of a battle for self-respect with many potential put downs and power games. This job is a man’s job! It requires strength to take responsibility and sacrifice.

3. Modelled behaviour – consistency

1 Thessalonians 2:10. The last thing your teenagers need is you telling them one thing while you do another. Teenagers years are years of growing power and autonomy. Give them power to early and they cannot cope so it leads to disrespect. Give them power too late and it creates resentment. What helps is seeing the right and loving use of power in the home. That involves consistency – not acting out of mood.

4. Practical input – encouragement

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. What children need most from Dad is encouragement. Often Dads think it is a bit of fun to rubbish their children or to stimulate them. The effect, however, is to crush children.

Encouragement comes in two parts. The first is comforting (consoling them when they have mucked up). Teenagers are awkward and sensitive, not sure who they are and need building up. The second is urging: accentuating the positives, gentling pushing them go further and so on. The ideal environment is for praise to out balance correction by three to one. Again this requires strength. It requires putting out preoccupations aside to focus on our children.

5. Ultimate purpose – a worthwhile life

1 Thessalonians 2:12. What is parenting for? We want them to make good choices, but what is good? Paul’s aim in fathering the Thessalonians is to live lives worthy of God. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?’ (Mark 8:36)

I’ll share part two of my notes on John’s seminar on being a father of teenagers in a future post.

Ann Benton, Teenagers: Biblical Wisdom for Parents (IVP) purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

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Tedd Tripp on parenting @ The Crowded House

Tedd Tripp, author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart – the best-selling, gospel-centred book on parenting purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US – recently visited us in Sheffield to talk about parenting.Tripp’s latest book is Instructing a Child’s Heart purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US which is also available in the States as a DVD. I’ve included a promo video at the end of this post.

Here are my notes on Tedd’s talk to us in The Crowded House …

‘Above all else, guard the heart for it is the wellspring of life.’ (Proverbs 4.23).

Parenting must be heart-centred for the heart is the wellspring of life.  The heart in the biblical terms is not simply the seat of emotions. We think, discern, fear and so on with our hearts. Our heart is our inner self. (1 Samuel 16.7; Deuteronomy 10.12; 1 Chronicles 28.9; Proverbs 3.5-6; 2 Chronicles 16.9; 1 Kings 8.57-58.; Matthew 15.8, 17-20;
Luke 6.43-45.)

It is not enough to tackle behaviour through manipulation (bribery, shame, threats etc.). When we only tackle behaviour:

1. The real need is not addressed.
2. We present a false basis for ethics (selfish ethics)
3. The heart is being wrongly trained. E.g. we might teach children to fear others.
4. The gospel will not be central. When we manipulate we appeal to idols in the child’s heart (appealing to pride, greed etc.).
5. Manipulation shows  our idols of our hearts (our idolatrous desire for pride, control, ease, convenience, fear of man).

Where to go with this?

1. The Bible reveals hearts (Hebrews 4.12).

2. There is always a ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘why’ of behaviour. But we confuse the ‘when’ and the ‘why’. We answer the ‘why’ question by saying ‘when’ – i.e. pointing to circumstances – when the answer is in the heart.

3. We all have a profound need for grace (Ezekiel 36.25-27). Help your children understand their need for the gospel.

We need to help our children understand thir hearts and their need hearts. It’s not that we never address behaviour. If a child is hitting his sister we don’t wait for heart change! But we must have a bigger vision a long-term focus on the heart.

Under five-year-olds
Two-year-olds do not have sufficient self-awareness to address heart issues with them. But we can teach them to live under loving authority and introduce the biblical language of the heart and its motivations.

Most parents give away their authority before even their children go to school as we negotiate with them and let them override our decisions. We shouldn’t teach five-year-olds to be decision-makers – we should model good decisions and obedience to authority. Teach them that it is a blessing to live under wise and loving authority.

How can we regain authority when we have given it away? Start with instruction. ‘Mum and Dad gave gained some new insights from God’s word that will help us as a family. Sorry we didn’t see this before.’ So start with instruction and then set new parametres.

Five to twelve year-olds

We often address behaviour because behaviour is visible. But doing the right thing for the wrong motive is hypocrisy. We also expose our hypocrisy: ‘I can’t believe you’re so selfish!’ = hypocrisy. Instead we can share our common need and our common hope in Christ. We’ll never got to the grace of the gospel if we’re manipulating behaviour.

Goals with our Teenagers

1. Internalization of the gospel. We want them to embrace God’s truth as their own living faith. Shepherd their interaction with God’s word – not just reprimanding, but taking them to God’s word. ‘I didn’t write this book –
this is God’s word.’ Helping them are the vitality and relevance of God’s word.

2. Shepherding through the inevitable periods of doubt. Don’t panic, but talk openly about doubts.

3. Developing a relationship that leads to mutuality as adults under God. We need to move from parent instructing child, to a mutual relationship of care.

Three foundations for teens from Proverbs 1

1. Fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1.7). Show the greatness and excellence of God.

2. Remembering your parents’ words (Proverbs 1.8-9). Remind them that no one loves them like you do. Their friends are fickle, but parents love and sacrifice no matter what.

3. Disassociation from the wicked (Proverbs 1.10-19). The attractiveness with the wicked is camaraderie – a sense of belonging. Make home a great place of belonging.

Instructing a Child’s Heart is also available as a DVD.

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Money and children in household church

I had an email from someone yesterday asking about money and children in household church. Here’s what I replied …

We do ‘money’ is a whole variety of ways in TCH. A few principles. 1. We aspire to live for heavenly treasure not worldly treasure so there are lots of people living on much less than they could earn. 2. We make no distinction between supported and unsupported gospel workers. So among the leaders there is a real mix and leadership is not linked to support in any way. We have supported workers who are not leaders and leaders who are not supported. 3. We are committed to muddling through! In other words, there are whole variety of ways people do funding. One or two raise personal and grant support. More often people combine some support with part-time work. Others work in secular jobs full-time. And a lot of people work part-time and just live on less. Our family lives mainly of my wife’s income as a teacher plus some personal support and what I earn from writing.

I’ve raised my two children in household church. They were 6 and 3 when we started and now they’re 14 and 11 We have a chapter on children and young people in Total Church, but here’s the two minute version. I think household church is a great context to raise children. There are challenges – the challenges of integrating them week by week. But better that by far than postponing those challenges until a crisis moment somewhere in their teens when they’re expected to make a big jump to church. You do lose some peer opportunities (although you can address those by working as a network of household congregations). But you gain something more valuable – children and young people interacting with Christian community and, especially, having Christian role s who are older then them, but not as old as their parents. Lose you images of a youth club with 50 kids running around like mad things on a Friday evening and gain instead an image of teenagers hanging out with committed Christians in their twenties.