Care for your PKs

I was never a PK.  A Pastor’s Kid.  But I did grow up with a number of them, and I was often horrified by the impact of the pressure they felt being a PK.  For some it was pressure put on them by the church their dad pastored, for others it was a pressure that they presumed and placed on themselves.  For some it was a mix of both.  But the results weren’t always pretty and some have been long lasting in terms of open rebellion, resentment for the church, and tragically a confusion of the Churches treatment of them with how Jesus would treat them.  We need to ask ourselves not just how we care for our pastor and for his wife – a good question to ask and maybe I’ll blog some suggestions on ways we can care for them well later.  But we must ask ourselves how do we as a church and as individual parts of the body care well for the pastor’s children?

Their dad’s calling wasn’t theirs.  We mustn’t expect too much of pastor’s children.  We must just expect them to be children with everything that entails.  They will mess about, be mischievous, rebel.  They are not mini pastors, or sermon illustration fodder (Dad’s don’t do it!).  They certainly shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than any other child in the church.  They are not role models and please don’t refer to them as such – they are just children.

They are not model children, so don’t treat them as such, or expect the unobtainable.  Now I know this may seem like it flies in the face of 1 Timothy and Titus and Paul’s teaching on elders managing their families well.  Listen carefully.  The call is for the elder to manage their household well, not for their children to be perfect examples of Christian childhood.  It is perfectly possible to be managing your children well but for them still to be children who act up, are too loud, run around in church, defiantly stamp their feet and say no over coffee, and even reject their parents faith.  The issue in 1 Timothy and Titus is not perfection in offspring, but a trajectory of godliness, and parenting with grace.  Let’s not expect more perfection of pastor’s kids that we do of any other children.  Instead the question we should be asking is are they being moulded and changed over time as they see grace and love day by day?

Recognise that it’s costs them.  Pastor’s kids pay a price for their dad’s calling and service. How often is their dad out when they are home?  How many Sunday’s is dad emotionally and spiritually drained by preaching and pastoring?  How many events do their dads miss because of a pastoral crisis?  One of the best ways we can care for PK’s is by ensuring their dad, though he works hard, is not too emotionally and spiritually drained to have a good relationship with his children.  Don’t phone him on his time/day off/holiday because you want the children to know you value their time with their dad.

They also often pay financially.  Many pastors could have earned far more had they stayed in their secular job, especially when children are teens they realise this and there is a danger it breeds resentment,  While wealthy friends jet off to Florida they are off to Bognor Regis.  It can be hard to feel like the poor relative in church.  It can be the same when it comes to present time too.  But pastor’s we need to be honest with our kids, sometimes we play the pastoral salary card when it is unhelpful, we also need to teach our children not to idolise stuff (If you’re a church member and you thought that’s what the pastor should be doing – teaching his kids not to idolise stuff.  I hope you’re teaching your kids the same lesson in the same way you’re expecting the pastor to).  But churches also need to ask are we paying the pastor fairly?  Is he able to care for his family?

Pray for them.  Pastors children see the good and bad of church, they experience the highs and lows and their children spot that.  They can grow to resent it.  Pastor’s need to try to protect their children from that.  But so do church members.  Guard your conversations when the children of the pastor are around, it’s so often the things they overhear that do the most harm, sniping about another person at church, criticism of a sermon by their dad, grumpiness about this or that, grumbling about things that are inconsequential, a feeling of frustration that their family sacrifice, or seem to, more than anyone else.

Befriend them.  One of the things I love about Grace is the great relationships and friendships our kids have with people of all ages in the church family.  They do need peers, yes.  But they need a wider network of church family.  Before you church hop or move, think about the cost for a pastor’s kid, are you taking away their friends?  Can you care for the pastors children by deliberately investing in and discipling them?

It is a privilege to grow up a PK, though we can make it feel like a chore.  A church family is a gift to our children if it engages with them, values them as individuals.  It can be a thrilling place if they are allowed to explore faith in Jesus without pressure to make it their own or imperil their dad’s position.  It can be a great place to be discipled – yes pastor’s kids need that too.  How well do you care for your pastor’s children?  What unhelpful expectations do you have of them and how can change that?

Another reminder of the need

I’ve been reminded again of the desperate need in this area.  Too many churches have closed.  Too many churches are small and struggling.  Too many have become muddled about the truth of the gospel.  Too many others are so beleaguered that they have had their vision dulled and are now intent on just keeping the church open rather than on reaching the lost.  Prepared to diminish over time as God calls them home whilst ignoring the plight of the thousands around them facing a lost eternity.  But are the rest of us watching on any less culpable?

Yorkshire is a County in desperate need.  I’ve been reminded of this again and again recently.  A place populated with ordinary people in ordinary towns but in desperate need of the spectacular gospel.  But increasingly these ordinary towns are seeing gospel witnesses close.  Increasingly no-one is prepared to go and do long term ordinary gospel labour in ordinary places with ordinary results.  When that is the case there is something wrong with the shape of our gospel.

I am so aware of so many places in desperate gospel need.  Goole, Selby, Woodlands, Skellow, Thorne, Harworth, I could go on and on and on.   All places within 30 minutes of us but all distinct communities in need of the gospel.  But who will go?  And who will train them to go?  And who will provide a network to support those who go and who will have to labour long and hard in ordinary places with an extraordinary gospel to see fruit that will be hard won?

These aren’t the sort of places you get invited to speak at church planting conferences off the back of planting in.  Or get asked to write church planting how to books as a result of planting there.  Because these are places where the gospel will be slow to take root because their are so many barriers to overcome.  Opposition that will only be won over as we consistently in the face of rejection and opposition do good again and again and again.  Live consistent lives fighting sin, doing good, calling them to know God again and again and again.  And show grace when maligned again and again and again.  Showing people that we love them and love the gospel so much we will endure anything to bring the two together.  These are places where plants may start and fail, start and fail, start and fail before taking root.

I’ve found myself imagining yesterday and today what it would be like to plant into those areas.  What do we need to do now to enable us to train up pastors to plant, God willing, in years to come?  To inculcate in people gospel DNA that risks, and even fails, and counts it all joy for the sake of Christ?

Are our sermons pointless?

I don’t mean in terms of 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, or 39 points to your sermon.  Though actually if you’re anywhere near the upper end of that scale I’d suggest you listen to yourself.  What was it Spurgeon said?  “If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons it would be a righteous judgment upon them, and they would soon cry out with Cain, ‘My punishment is far greater than I can bear.”  Try listening to yourself – at normal speed, not 1.5 or 2x, and see how you feel.

No my point is more to do with application.  Too much “application” is implication (the principle God is teaching us in the passage) rather than real application which takes the implication and works it out for people listening in the world in which they live in tangible ways.  Application is where we show people how the rubber of the gospel message hits the road where we, and they, are!  And application is hard work, too often I don’t spend enough time thinking about this.

Good application starts with good interpretation, once we’ve understood the meaning of the text then we can begin to think about how it applied to its original hearers, and then to us.  Good application will also reflect the context of the book and the bibles whole story.  But it will be context specific, if our sermon is so generic that it could be preached in any church without tweaks and changes I’d suggest we haven’t done our application properly.  If we’re preaching for the podcast we’re short changing our flesh and blood – and real – congregation.

Scripture is crying out for application.  It’s dynamic – God’s word was designed to bring change!  With that in mind I find it helpful to ask these questions as I prepare to preach, and battle to apply the text.

  • What was the application for those to whom the book was written?  (Because it can’t be saying something different to us than it was to them)
  • What truths did it teach them about God, and how ought they to respond to that?
  • What did it teach God’s people about their hearts and thinking?
  • How does it point to Jesus and the transforming nature of the gospel?
  • What direct applications does it make concerning actions?
  • How does it call for, or model repentance and life transformed by faith?
  • Is it simply reporting or recommending actions?
  • Apply what the passage says – your main teaching point will shape your main application point: What is the same for us? What is different?
  • What is the application for our Christian friends?
  • What is the application for our church as a body?
  • What is the application for our unbelieving friends?
  • What is the application for our society and our world?
  • How does the application encourage us as a church even as it calls us to do this more and more?  (I’ve been making a conscious effort to do this more because I tend to see need rather than encouragement)

And we must always apply in the light of the gospel – don’t apply a ‘do this’ just because I say so.  Apply by changing the heart with the gospel, aim for affections and desires.  Show how Jesus love poured out for us calls us to be transformed in this application.

Don’t leave all your application to the end in a big chunk, apply as things come up in your structure and in asides – yes, it may not be the main point but it is a point of application that God has preserved and may be relevant to those you are preaching to.  Apply boldly but graciously (as if to the person you love most in the world) longing for change and apply aware of the situations, circumstances and relationships they find themselves in.

And lastly let application shape your introduction.  Take time to see what the passage is calling for and let it drive your introduction.  Create tension and show our need for this passage, because we as preachers need it as much if not more than our congregations.

1 simple step to encouragement

I was thinking of writing the next how to book for church.  I know there is a useful little course out called six steps to encouragement, though the fact we need a course on this suggests to me that there is something wrong with our discipling and our church culture that we have to teach this and its not simply absorbed through the church culture, but I have a better idea.  It’s much simpler, much more streamlined, but I’m not sure you can call it a course, or turn it into a course – it’s called one step to encouragement.

It would be a one week course, with one study, with essentially one simple idea.  Except the problem is I’m not convinced people would feel it meaty enough to publish, buy, package or attend.  My simple one step to encouragement is this: turn up.  Be there.  Attend.  Encouragement begins with your presence – because you can’t encourage others if you aren’t there.  We would look throughout the Bible at how people need other people – think Adam and Eve, the plan for Abraham to become a people, Moses needing Aaron, Elijah calling Elisha, Jesus gathering a group around him – and I don’t think Jesus today would Skype or Zoom or FaceTime them instead.  We would look at how the Bible ends with a picture of presence, believers from every nation, tongue, and tribe together, gathered to praise and enjoy God.

I know it’s not rocket science, but then I don’t think any of the 6 steps are either.  But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it doesn’t need saying.

Quality of relationship flows out of quantity of relationships.  If we want to go deep in getting to know someone we need to spend time with people.  Often the best conversations flow out of long periods of time of just being together.  You know what its like when you meet up with friends, it takes a while to warm up to the important conversations.  To create a dichotomy between quality and quantity is stupid.  One feeds the other.  And that means presence, being there matters.  Being at church no matter what.  Bending the schedule, shaping the week so that we can be present whenever God’s people meet together.  And then doing it again and again and again.  Presence is the foundation of encouragement, it’s where it begins.

If you want to encourage others turn up.  Be there.  Be there at church to greet them and chat and sing alongside them and pray with them.  Be there at Bible study to spur each other on in studying and questioning and seeking answers from God’s word.  Be there at major events, commit.  Encourage.  Just imagine what a difference that might make.

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Do gooders?

When was the last time someone accused Christians of being a do-gooder?  A hypocrite yes.  Out of date, heard that one.  But too often I don’t hear the term do-gooder or something similar used to describe or even criticise Christians or the church.  And that is a tragedy.

Given how often we are called to do good by Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and a host of Old Testament prophets, that is an absolute tragedy.  James words at the end of the first chapter of his letter; “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.”  are particularly striking.  Peter writes continually of how we ought to be living lives that are so good,  not in terms of nose upturned pharisaical judgemental righteousness, in terms of our good deeds that even when people slander us they see our good deeds and come to praise God.

Good deeds should be synonymous with God’s people.  The church without good works ought to be like a car without wheels.  I’ve been struck as we work through 1 Peter that we must be a people who confront the world’s hostility and malicious accusations with yet more good deeds.  Then as we discussed the role of deacons at a recent training meeting it was fascinating to observe their role on the early church was to ensure the church was effective in its visible outworking of the gospel in feeding the widows, in other words doing good.

And there is lots of good we do, youth groups, toddlers and a whole variety of other things.  But I wonder if we ought to be more known for being ‘do-gooders.’

Are our evangelistic services a waste of time?

One of my challenges for 2019 was to read 1 Proverb a day, the idea being that I then chewed on the Proverb all day.  It’s been a hard discipline, but one which I’ll continue next year as I think it’s helpful for me to slow down, reflect and think.

Sunday’s was this from Proverbs 20v4:

“Sluggards do not plow in season;
    so at harvest time they look but find nothing.”

There was lots that struck me as I thought about it during the day.  But I couldn’t help but apply it to the church and our evangelism.  Church growth in the UK has stalled, there are patches of growth, but also large swathes of decline.  There are new churches planted which stimulate growth (though I’d be intrigued to know how much is new kingdom growth), whilst other churches wither for want of new believers, revitalisation and eventually die.

I wonder if this is because as Churches and Christians we’ve taken our hand off the plough.  Because of Christendom enduring legacy the church could previously rely quite easily on people with a church background, or who attended Sunday School, or who were wandering sheep, when it came to evangelism.  These people were in effect low hanging fruit.  Relatively easy to reach with the gospel, already used to and positive about church, already with a foundational framework to their thinking that was, if not Christian, broadly formed by Biblical values.

But there is little low hanging fruit for us to share the gospel with now and maybe our methods of evangelism are still tuned to this. We’ve been doing the reaping, but not the hard work of ploughing to break the ground, and so now like the sluggard at harvest time there is nothing.

The warning of the Proverbs is designed to teach us wisdom, to teach us what consequences a certain action has so that we can remedy it now.  So how do we remedy this?  We need to put our hand to the plough.  We need to begin the long term work of breaking the ground for Christianity.  But how?

We’ve been studying 1 Peter this term and so much of it is directly relevant to this issue, to our society.  Peter writes to believers who are Christians living and witnessing in an anti-Christian world, as they live out the gospel they are met by hostility and opposition, they are slandered, abused, maligned and so on.

Peter exhorts them to do the plough work.  Not to allow society to mould them and diminish the difference but to live radically holy lives and Peter is honest that this will provoke opposition, it will provoke abuse.  But it is only as believers fight sin in themselves and live holy lives before a watching world, do good even when attacked for it, and glorify God that others will ask why?

That is hard.  To do good, to love your neighbour and yet be abused for it, and respond by radically loving them and doing good to them.  That is counter intuitive but it is plough work.  Our radically costly good work in serving those who oppose us is hard but it is necessary.  It turns the soil of hard hearts, provoking questions.  Are we prepared for doing the hard work or are we content to be evangelistic sluggards?  Not doing nothing because we’ll run our usual store of ‘events’ yet find ourselves bemoaning the lack of guests and fruit. Sluggards because we won’t do the hard work of being holy and loving those who oppose us, meeting their opposition with good works outside the church, in the community, work and neighbourhood, that demonstrates radical love not just for those who deserve it but especially for those who don’t.

Will we do that as churches?  What does your church do that the community can point to and see as loving above and beyond what others do?  Or have we taken our hands off the plough?

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