In the communal ecclesia/community of being, we discover how to pour ourselves out for the persons (and needs) of our community as other members learn to do the same. This is not optional but necessary and desirable under the Lordship of Jesus and the formation of the Spirit. Admittedly, this is not always the most attractive or convenient practice at first. This is why church planting necessitates a beginning with disciples and discipleship.Read More
Have you ever made a professor so mad they cried? I have. At the time I thought he was weak and incapable of defending the very things he was teaching. At the time I found this utterly preposterous. But even more preposterous than a man not knowing how to defend his teaching was his teaching that a woman could teach at all in the Church. At the time I was a flaming fundamentalist and arrogant ass.Read More
Our family just got back from vacation. Family vacation these days means a cross-country trip to grandma’s house in Kansas. But don’t take this as a complaint. We had a phenomenal time with friends and family. Fishing, swimming, four-wheeling, boating and tubing, bocce ball, and Silver Dollar City with people we love beats private vacations and surreal views any day in my books. During the trip we were able to visit some old friends, and it just so happened the night we visited they hosting our old church for a cookout and party. On our way to the party we drove by the church building we used to attend, so Robin pointed it out to the kids. Her exact words were, “Hey kids, there is the church building mommy and daddy first attended together.” Safari, who loves looking at our old photos and wedding album, asked if the girl with the orange hair and other little boy go there. We both got a chuckle and said yes.
The girl with orange hair and the little boy were two of the first people we saw at the party, and neither is little anymore. They have both grown up! Lydia is a beautiful seventeen-year-old, and John is a twenty-three-year-old world adventurer now.
The party was in a field down by the pond. As we were walking down you could hear lots of commotion but you could not see anyone. You could hear the kids screaming and yelling, expressing their joy and excitement of swimming and kayaking around the pond. You could also hear the adults laughing and enjoying one another’s stories. A real sense of excitement welled up within me from the energy of the crowd, as we approached. When we turned the corner around the trees and could see everyone, my daughter Safari asked, “Daddy is this the church?”
She had seen the building and now she has seen the church!
Can we be honest? People who constantly speak about the good ole' days are annoying. Whether they are stories of how great the person used to be or how great our country's (the US) morals use to be, they are annoying. I'm ready for fresh vision that points people towards Kingdom breakthrough!
Leaning one way or another In my last post, I defined a disciple as an intentional follower of Jesus, who is learning to be like him (character), while also learning to do what he did (competency). A person growing in both character and competency will eventually start seeing kingdom breakthrough (in the form of Luke 4:18, 19 and/or Matt 11:2-5). Many people, if they are honest, look at their lives and only see limited breakthrough. When I look in the rearview mirror, I see a lot of breakthrough in the beginning stages of the various ministries I have started, but limited to no breakthrough in later stages. This begs the question, “Why does breakthrough become more and more rare as I move forward in ministry?
If you find yourself asking this question, the answer, more than likely, is that you are leaning too much on either the character or the competency of Jesus. People may immediately be attracted to you because of your character or competency, but sooner or later your strength will become your downfall. As seen in the matrix above, a person with high character but no competency runs the risk of becoming intolerant, while the person with high competency but low character may find himself critical of others. Do either of the realities sound familiar? Are you tired of talking about the good ole days?
Competency I typically lean more towards competency. I long to do the things that Jesus did. If I am not careful though my identity and self-worth gets wrapped up in how much stuff I do or that my community does that looks like Kingdom activity. As a “doer” type leader, Kingdom type activity is often associated with or defined as busyness. Eventually, I look back and discover those who originally set out with me have been left behind or have given up. The few that remain are often tired, stressed and/or incredibly cynical of those who could not bare the burdens I place on people. (P.S. These voices are poisonous for the “doer” type leader because it serves to justify or even glorify my hard work ethic.) It is important to understand that Kingdom activity is not and should not be directly associated with doing things. Yes, Kingdom activity is serving and loving your neighbor, but it is much more than this. The Kingdom that Jesus revealed, and Paul described and expressed, comes with power (miracles, healings, etc.).
Disciples, who focus primarily on competency, may see some success initially but eventually they find themselves with little fruit and no followers. Why? This is due to immaturity. Immature disciples often choose to “do” rather than to be and listen to the Father. They move at their own accord. Eventually these leaders become cynical, accusing others of not loving Jesus enough and/or being lazy and apathetic. These types of disciples are no fun to be around because they do not know how to relax and have fun. If a “doer” type leader does see continued personal success, they lead as glory mongers robbing the glory do to God. Glory Mongers forget they were representing the Father and began representing themselves. A mature disciple lives a humble life, knowing the work God wants to accomplish through her is done in the overflow of his in relationship with her. The mature disciple understands that Christ strength is revealed and magnified in her weakness.
Character Persons who lean more towards Character long to be like Jesus. Their identity or self-worth gets wrapped up in character development, which often gets translated as “do’s and don’t’s.” Character leaning leaders tend to enjoy relationships with believers, forsaking relationships with those outside the church because “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). It should be pointed out here that Paul was referencing other so-called believers who denied the resurrection (those with bad theology on an essential doctrine) and not with the outside world. But in any manner, outsiders often find it difficult to break into this type of group and thus little Kingdom breakthrough happens.
Immature disciples, who focus on the Character of Jesus, may see some success/breakthrough initially but eventually they become intolerant and/or separated from the world, tucked away in a religious community. They soon become lofty finger-pointers who love to point out the splinter in another person’s eye while ignoring the log in their own eye. A mature disciple knows they too are a wretched man (as Paul describes in Romans 7) and therefore approach people with grace and seek to restore them with gentleness. The mature disciple also knows God wants to do through him what he has done in him.
The Journey of the Disciple If you are like me, and you are tired of talking about the good ole' days, then you need to recognize which ditch you find yourself in. Immature disciples annoy people with stories of those good ole' days while mature disciples inspire people towards future days. These immature stories often have seeds of intolerance or cynicism. Choose not to camp in either of these pits. Choose instead the life of a disciple. The life of the maturing disciple is a journey of developing the character of Jesus while learning the competency of Jesus. This balance of character and competency will help us find sustainable breakthrough in ministry, not just in the exciting beginning stages, but throughout the entirety of the journey. It is certainly a journey that it is filled with many pitfalls, which is why we see in the New Testament that disciples had spiritual leaders who they imitated and who held them accountable. This begins the discussion of discipleship, to which we will turn in my next post.
I have been on an intentional road towards discipleship and mission for a little over two years now. I have repositioned my philosophy of ministry so that everything flows out of discipleship. Over these two years, this journey of discipleship has stretched and grown me, while forcing me to answer some tough questions. The main questions stem around “What is a disciple?” and “What do I mean by discipleship?”
I believe the entire church hinges on these two questions.
Jesus took his disciples up on the Mount of Olives at the end of his earthly ministry and commissioned them to do one thing, go into all the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20).
That was it!
Just go and make disciples. No plan B and no next step. Just make disciples.
Mathētēs So what is a disciple? There are several opinions on what a disciple is, but the simplest explanation makes the most sense and is the most accurate. The Greek word mathētēs translated into what we know as disciple simply means learner (student) or follower. Mathētēs is a student who is following someone, generally a Rabbi, in order to learn how to be like him. The disciple following the Rabbi did not simply want to know what the Rabbi knew; he wanted to be just like the Rabbi.
Have you ever heard the saying, “He is a real student of the game?” “A-student-of-the-game” eats, sleeps, and breathes his or her sport. If they are a baseball player, they act, look, think, and talk like a baseball player. If you ever ask for their help or advice on a subject, they will more than likely give a scenario involving their sport of choice as an illustration. A “student-of-the-game” will have a wardrobe that consists mainly of his or her favorite sport or team. For fans and athletes alike, their most memorable times center around a sporting event or moment.
A disciple of Jesus in simple words is a student of Jesus. He or she is a person following Jesus gradually learning to be just like him and to do what he did. A maturing disciple will begin to eat, sleep, and breathe the Way of Jesus. He or she will begin to act, look, think, talk, and do like Jesus. 3DM explains this through the lens of Character and Competency.
Character For a disciple, character is measured or defined by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5). Is your inner life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? Is your life characterized by grace, humility, compassion, generosity, and mercy? Are your words filled with grace and compassion? Do you enjoy a deep relationship with the Father of Heaven? Do you have a love for the Scriptures? These are the qualities we see in Jesus, and these are the qualities that are growing within a disciple.
Competency For a disciple of Jesus, competency is best measured or defined through the making of other disciples. Can you make disciples who can and will in turn make new disciples? Can you hear the Father’s voice, and do you respond to it with the power and authority that Jesus exemplified? Are you present and aware of what God is doing around you? When you pray or move out in faith, do things happen? Do you joyfully accept the responsibility of representing the Father and Son here on earth? Do you trust the Spirit to lead and guide you? Can you teach the Scriptures well? Are your actions just and merciful? These are the things we find Jesus doing, and these are the things disciples are learning to do.
Both/And Most of us typically lean towards one or the other. We either want to focus on our character development in hopes that we can grow closer to God through holiness, or we want to focus on competencies in order to build the Kingdom. This is not an either/or scenario, it is a both/and. Our developing character does enrich our relationship with the Father in Heaven (Covenant), and our growing competencies do assist in building God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. Only when our character and competency is aligning with Jesus will we see true sustainable Kingdom breakthrough.
Bedtime is lots of fun around our house. And I am actually being serious. For the most part our kids enjoy the routine because it is a family affair. When we skip our bedtime routine (yes we do miss it from time to time) for the sake of wanting them to go straight to bed, they have a hard time settling down for bed. But even when they are wound up and going crazy, going through our bedtime routine gets them ready for bed by the end. Having a bedtime routine creates a pattern, like muscle memory, for preparing to sleep. Devotions After putting on our PJ's and brushing our teeth, we jump on the bed and pull out The Jesus Storybook Bible. This is an excellent book that helps us see Jesus in each of the more highlighted stories of the OT, as well as showing us Jesus' purpose on earth through the NT. As with every children's Bible, they leave out the bad parts like Noah getting drunk and passing out naked in his tent, so I make sure to include them. How else can I make a biblical threat on their life? You never know when I may need one of them to cover me up. I cannot wait for the day Safari is sitting in Sunday School and the story of Noah's ark is the topic of conversation. I can see it now. "My daddy said Noah got drunk and passed out naked. He said when that happens to him I cannot make fun of him or he will put a curse on me."
Seriously though, we do add the stories about how each person fails and God's love restores them. The people in the Bible were far from perfect, and our kids will not be any closer . Albeit I hope my son's do not pimp out their wives for their own safety.
Safari has to read first. Bedtime is not fun if we do not allow her to read first. When Robin and I are tired and want to get rolling this can be frustrating, but it is also fun to see how much she remembers about the stories. We have read through The Jesus Storybook Bible several times, so when we tell her what story we are reading she recalls some of the story as she makes up the rest.
Singing After doing our devotion, we sing two songs of their choosing. These typically include Jesus Love Me, This Little Light of Mine (which we scream at the top of our lungs), Open the Eyes of My Heart, and other fun songs like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and the ABC's. These are fun and often times give us some laughter.
What were you created for? From songs we move to life. We ask each of them, "What were you created for?" In response, they each say "love, joy, adventure, relationships, and to rule by the grace of God."
Love Life is meant to be one filled with love. God make man and woman in His image and was well pleased with them. Love includes putting others before ourselves, something God has done from the beginning. It means seeing others needs and wants as important or more important than our own. It means working together and forgiving one another when we mess up. It means fighting for one another and fighting for justice.
Joy Life is meant to be enjoyed. In the beginning God looked at all creation and proclaimed all was good. Creation is not evil and is not meant to be rejected but enjoyed in the presence and glory of our Father. Life should be filled with fun and laughter. We should not feel guilty that our life is filled with joy and laughter, but through the lens of love we must not live joyful at the expense of others. And we cannot forsake the needs of the others.
Adventure Life should also be an adventure. In the beginning God told Adam and Eve to go subdue all creation. Talk about a wild wild west! Life is still an adventure and mission is similar. Adventure involves risk and willingness to go and do.
Relationship Life is also meant to be lived with others. God saw Adam alone and said it is not good for man to be alone. Life is meant to be lived in relationship and community.
To Rule by the Grace of God And God created us to rule by His grace. As followers of Jesus we are a royal priesthood. We represent the Son, who is now King. This is authority is not an authority of lordship in which we hold it over others, oppressing and holding others back or underneath us. Rather this authority is an authority of servanthood towards others, and over evil and demonic powers.
Every night we plant these seeds of life and truth into the hearts and minds of our children. We do not give these definitions and explanations during the night routine but they are, and will become more, acquainted with them through daily life. We pray they grow with faith and focus in their relationship with the Father and others. This is our way of planting the right seeds.
Who loves you? Feelings of loneliness and unworthiness drive people crazy. One of the biggest issues I see as a pastor is insecurity. At a basic foundational level Robin and I are trying to combat this with our children with a simple question that reminds them of their value. Every night before bed, after asking them what they were created for, we ask them who love them. They each reply, "Daddy, mommy, Safari/Sojo, and Kanoa." Then we ask them who else loves them, to which they reply various people from our community (Unlce Choe Choe, Uncle Andrew, Aunt Katie) and friends from the neighborhood. After their laundry list of people we ask them who loves them most of all, and they shout Jesus! We reply that we will always love them and believe in them, and Jesus does so infinitely more.
Who do you want to pray for? Next we ask them who they want to pray for and why. We typically pray for our neighbor friends, community family, and family. Safari has started praying for her friends and family. Afterwords we say a prayer for Safari and Sojo. At the conclusion of the prayer, Robin and I pray their life's prayerful purpose over them.
Safari's middle name is Soleil, which is French for sun. The sun is what brings life and energy to all creation. So we say, "Safari, we pray you bring life and energy to all creation." Sojo's middle name is Justice. Justice means to restore right living. So we say, "Sojo, we pray you fight for the justice of all people."
And then we say good night. The last thing they typically hear from us before bed is our general vision for their life.
So our bedtime routine goes as follows:
- Devotion from Jesus Storybook Bible
- What were you created for?
- Who loves you? Who else? And who loves you most of all?
- Who do you want to pray for?
- Our prayer for them? And our prayerful vision for their life.
Our favorite times to do this is when we have friends over. We do not put our family practices on hold because we have friends and family over. We invite them into our family and therefor into our family practices. Most of the time this goes great! Unfortunately it did not go so great the other night. We had some of our community family over for dinner. When the kids were ready for bed we brought down the Jesus Book for devotions, but Safari got distracted and let's just say bedtime did not go so well. This does not mean we will never do it again. In fact, it means I want to do it again as soon as possible.
The best part of seeing things like this happen is that others get a chance to see that you are not perfect. Just because Robin and I are intentional about most things does not mean most things are easy. But we have a lot of fun doing them. Bedtime is one of the best!
A while back I told a friend I was thinking about getting an impala tattoo. He was surprised saying he did not realize I was a car guy, especially a Chevy guy (since my cars are not Chevy). I laughed and explained that an impala is an African antelope. An impala has amazing physical abilities; these include being able to jump ten feet high, over 30 feet long, and they can run up to 56 mph! In my opinion that is pretty awesome. What makes them spectacular though is that if you place them inside a three foot fence from the time of birth, they will never jump over it. Why? Because they do not know they can! This my friends, is maybe the single most amazing parenting value Robin and I hold. All that potential wasted because of a three foot fence! Our children are capable of WAY more than we give them credit or opportunity for, but the American Dream we find our culture thriving off of places three foot fences our children from the moment they enter life. From hiding our babies from the world, to crazy strict schedules, to constantly holding and comforting our children, to the "be careful" 's and "get down before you hurt yourself" 's, to our CRAZY over reactions when our children fall down or bruise their knees. We are consumed with protecting our children, which gives them an incredible fear of the world and trying anything a bit risky. Helicopter parents are on the rise.
I have forever been marked by my friends on Kauai. My Kauai ohana are some crazy adventurous people. There is not a lot of things they are unwilling to try or do. They will eat about anything you ask them to eat, do about any dare them to do, and get as dirty as you want to get. They absolutely love risk and adventure.
Tia baby I could not figure out what made them so crazy until one day at Kipu Falls. We were there with the Nagao-Agustin's enjoying good times. A little girl named Tia (2-yrs-old) was playing in one of the pools of water when all the sudden she fell in and started sinking to the bottom of the pool. It was like in the movies. Here eyes were open looking up with her hands raised towards the surface as she was sinking. Her dad and I were talking about something when it happened. In mid-sentence he looks over reaches down, pulls her out and sets right back where she was WITHOUT breaking conversation. It was like no big deal to him OR HER. Tia did not cry, Timmy did not freak out and no one else told him to pay attention or move her away from the water. No one made a big deal about it! Including myself.
I am quite positive he does not even remember the incident but it was here that I committed to use the words "be careful" or "you could have hurt yourself" as little as possible.
Irresponsible? Some might suggest Timmy was being irresponsible, but he was not. He new where she was and what she was doing. When she fell in, he was there. She did not drown and was not hurt. And she is not afraid of the water. What Timmy did was show his daughter that he was there for her. Things happen and the sooner we get back on our feet the sooner we can begin enjoying life again. He did not mean to show her this, it just happened. Fast forward this years later and you now have a girl willing to try and do just about anything. She is willing to take on risk and adventure.
Too many children develop life long fears because of situations like these. Whether it is dog incidents, water incidents, heights or something else. Our response to situations like these tells them more than what actually happens. They look to us to see if what just happened is an "oops" or if it is something that should not be attempted or encountered again.
I'm a ladder maker, not a fence builder I don't want to build fences around my children that were never meant to be there. I have to trust that the Father is watching over them.
BUT please hear me. I am not saying Robin and I are trying to raise stunt devils. Robin and I take the safety of our children serious, but we face safety issues in a different manner.
When our kids start showing an interest in the stairs we do not freak out and yell at them to stay away less they get hurt. Instead, we teach them how to use the stairs. Yes, we use baby gates but we also teach them how to slide down the stairs. When they want to use the fireman's pole on the playground, we do not warn them to stay away. We help them learn how to go down it. We try to never tell our kids they cannot do something. We try to help them figure how they can do it. Sometimes this means learning initial steps before actually attempting the grand feat. In doing this we make a ladder that helps them accomplish their goals.
The cool thing about this approach to safety is that our kids are typically a bit more physically advanced than others kids and a bit more confident in trying and doing new things. BUT the best thing about it is that they know their boundaries better than most kids. They have developed a great sense of their abilities. You would think they would get hurt more than most, but they actually get hurt less.
Overcoming falls And when they fall off their bike, trip or get punched by another kid, we do not rush to the rescue. We sit back and watch them overcome the situation. When our kids get hurt we help try to turn their expression of the pain in a different direction. Safari would say "wah-ka-wah-ka" when she would fall and hurt herself. We do not have a clue what it means, other than that it takes her mind off the pain. It took her a while to realize she is "supposed" to cry when she starts bleeding. The first time she realized she was bleeding, she asked what it was. She was three years old before she really knew what a band-aid was. But now that she has seen child and parent alike freak out at the sight of blood she will cry and ask for a band aid. Most often we laugh, tell her she does not need one and give her one anyway.
Please do not hear me comparing my kids to other kids. This is something I do not participate in. I do not care if my child is more athletic, smarter, tougher, daring or beautiful than another kid. My identity is not wrapped up in measuring my child against another. What I am concerned with is developing within them a sense of confidence and willingness to try and do anything God asks them to do. The best way I can do this is to challenge them to try new things, to overcome challenging obstacles, do risky things from time to time, and not freak out when they get hurt.
Our children, like impalas, are capable of great things.
PLEASE feel free to push back on me here. I want to ensure I am getting across the right message. I am IN NO WAY advocating irresponsible parenting. Erwin McMann, in his book The Barbarian Way, tells the story of his son wanting to jump off the roof of their house. His son asked his permission to jump and to his wife's surprise, Erwin said yes! His first reason was that he would rather him jump while he was near in case something happened. A boy has to jump at some point, better if their is some supervision. His second reason is that he didn't want to build a fence. I love his quote that I will end with here,
I’ve seen far too many kids raised in Christian homes who are indifferent towards Jesus and often carry a great disdain for the church. Sometimes it’s the result of blatant hypocrisy, but other times it’s the result of nothing less than sheer monotony and boredom. We raise our children in the cocoon of a domesticated faith and wonder why they run as far as they can to find adventure.
The picture for this blog is of Tia's sister Tianne. Tianne knifed (yes, took a knife and killed this boar for dinner) all by herself. Tia and Tianne are just two examples of fun and crazy girls on Kauai.
I will never forget the first time Uncle Andrew disciplined my daughter. Safari was the first child to be born among our friends and with that honor came much attention and grace. She could do no wrong and had everyone wrapped around her pinky. Then came Uncle Andrew (not her real uncle). I wish I could remember what it was she did. More than likely she was interrupting conversation. All I remember is Andrew saying something like, "What are you doing?" before telling her to stop. She looked at him as if to say, "Who do you think you are?" and then looked at me as if I were going to tell him what was up. To be honest I was a bit taken back myself because Andrew came with a bit of force, which was something I was not quite use to. But I stayed back and observed. They had their show down but eventually Andrew won out. In Friday's blog we talked about introducing your baby to community as soon as possible and as much as possible. Hanging out with friends and family will give you a break, help others learn to interact with children and enjoy their blessings, and stretch your children making them more flexible individuals. The benefit of community goes far beyond these three factors and today I want to focus on a few more that will help your child's development.
Social Behavior If we are honest, our kids pretty much rule the roost when it comes to being at home. They are the center of attention and deservedly so. If they are not, they should be. Robin and I try our best (Robin better than I) to be completely present when we are at home. This means no phones, computers, iPad's, Kindles, etc. Our kids get 100% of our attention and because of this, they know they are loved. This reality requires a community to do life with though.
When our kids get all our attention they begin to expect it and even demand it. This was probably the case with Safari and Andrew. Kids need to learn to be patient and wait their turn. Being in community gives them this chance. It is rude to interrupt conversation or constantly draw attention away from others. How can we expect them to know this if we do not expose them to larger settings? Having a community of people you do life with gives children an opportunity to learn proper behavior among people who love and care for them. So when you go for dinner out in public, you may be less embarrassed.
Sharing is Caring We constantly have people at our house. At least twice a week we have friends (who we call family) over for dinner and hang out. Safari and Sojo get excited whenever Robin or I begin cleaning the house because they know people are coming over. Safari starts going through her toys deciding which toys she is going to share with her friends. Last night we had seven kids running around our house and no arguments over toys! Safari LOVES to share and give, and Sojo is learning
When a child is rarely introduced to community and use to having everything to themselves, they become incredibly self-centered. We get embarrassed and irritated when they do not share or get along, but this is not their fault. They have no capacity for sharing because they have not had the opportunity to do so. Living in community helps children learn to share and get along with others. They develop a love and devotion for their friends just as you and I do for our friends. Safari and Sojo love their friends and are constantly thinking of them. They always want to pray for their friends when it comes to night time prayer. When we go to Target they do not say I want this or I want that. These words rarely come from their mouth. Instead they say, we should by this for so and so.
No more Mr. Mean Guy The greatest thing about involving kids in deep community is that you are no longer the mean mommy or daddy. Why? Because everyone is reinforcing each other. If I am the only one telling Safari not to interrupt people or telling Sojo not to play with his food, then I am ruining their fun. But if Uncle Andrew is telling Safari to chill out and wait her turn, then it becomes a way of life. Why? Because it is coming from more than one source. Living in a community of people who will reinforce proper social behavior shows your kids that you are not just a mean mommy. The community Robin and I live in teach our kids a lot about life. They help reinforce our way of living and interacting in social settings.
Conclusion We asked Safari what she wanted to do for her fourth birthday party last month. Guess what her response was? "Uhm...I'm going to have a slumber party at Uncle Andrew's house." Seriously. Safari not only submitted to Uncle Andrew's discipline, but he has become one of her favorites. When a friend disciplines your child (in a proper manner) it may feel odd at first, but it is essential. Doing life with family (friends or literal family) is one of the best things Robin and I have done for our children.
How has your community helped you raise your children?
It takes a village to raise a child - African Proverb I explained in the first blog of this series that Robin and I did some things intentionally and some things by accident. One of the greatest accidents we ever made was doing life with a community of people and initiating Safari (our daughter) into it immediately. From just about the moment (within 90 minutes) of entering the world, Safari was introduced to people she is still doing life with now. I am not just talking about grandma and grandpa (she actually did not meet them for a couple weeks). There were about ten people waiting outside for her arrival. I am not suggesting this type of birthing experience is for everyone but I am suggesting that introducing your baby into a community of people ASAP is very beneficial.
Contemporary wisdom seems to say that you should take your infant home from the hospital and put them on lock down for the first few months of life, not exposing them to the germs of the world. I would suggest the opposite. Pass your baby around and let your friends love on them. Passing your baby around benefits everyone.
Parent Recess First and foremost, being in community it gives the parent a break. When you are at home with the baby, you are constantly focused on the baby. You feed her, change her, hold her, etc. YOU need a break from baby world. Many new parents feel trapped and weighed down. Moms get tired, stressed, and often times depressed. Almost all their attention goes to the new kid. This leaves dads feeling left out sometimes and frustrated often. They need social interaction as well. The baby cries and mom and dad argue.
A lot of arguing seems to happen when an infant arrives. Being a part of a community allows you to pass off the baby and be an adult for a while. Have adult conversations and enjoy yourself. These community times are like recess. Robin and I always felt so refreshed and relaxed after having friends over for dinner, or going to a friends house for a night of fun.
School is in session I know there are a few people out there who have never held a baby, but most of us got our first baby experiences with another persons baby. Passing your baby around exposes your friends without kids to babies. This is especially great for guys. Robin and I are seriously discipling some great dad prospects. Your baby is pretty darn tough. Your friends will not break them. Even if they accidentally elbow them in the face (eh-hem...Aunt K K). Babies are rubber maid. As for the ladies, I have only met a few women who do not salivate when they see a baby. So do not feel like you are inconveniencing your friends by passing off your baby.
If you have friends with kids, especially friends with older kids, they more often than not LOVE holding and playing with babies because it reminds them of their little babies. So your blessing them with the chance to remember the good ole days. You also may be able to pick up a few tips by observing how they interact with your baby.
Getting a good stretch Infants are way more flexible than you may think. Ask a person doing yoga. In yoga, you are introduced to some crazy positions and stretches when you first begin. You will be bending like Beckham (or Gumby) in no time though, if you stay with it you. The same goes with your baby. Babies are some of the most flexible beings in the world, if they are exposed to opportunities to stretch. I see this time and time again. Parents who keep their baby hidden from the world the first few months and then begin introducing them into community have a difficult time. Why? Because babies are like sponges. They are constantly absorbing how life works. They are developing boundaries and habits like crazy (more on this in a later blog). The quicker you can expose them to people, the more flexible they will be.
The Keys to Success I can hear the words rolling in your mind now. Your kids are not like my kids. My child has to be at home to sleep. They cannot sleep in a pack'n'play. They cry when they go to other people. Babies can and do sleep anywhere. I admit, Safari is an extrovert. She LOVES people. Sojo (our first son) on the other hand, is an introvert. Many can attest to his sassiness. He would cry when we would pass him off. He is standoffish when he first meets people, and will only warm up to people who try. But this did not stop us from passing him off. It did not stop us from going to friends or inviting friends over.
There are two keys to success here. First, ASAP. Whether it was Safari, Sojo, and even now with Kanoa; from the moment they were born we are introducing people into their lives. We practically beg people to come to the hospital or to come over for dinners when we get home. With each kid we either attended or hosted our first party within two week of their birth. We introduce our kids to community ASAP. Kids start forming their habits immediately, so we need to expose them immediately.
Second, AMAP. Be with people as much as possible. Our kids hang with people every day of the week. Kanoa is held by someone in our community every day of the week. I realize many people do not live like this (sadly). But give it a try. Get together with a group of friends once a week. And then maybe add a dinner night with one or two other people weekly or bi-weekly. Our culture has lost the extended family and is in deep need of it. If you try this, you will find many more benefits than just a more well-adjusted baby. Remember, practice makes perfect. If it goes bad the first time, try again and again and again.
What if my baby cries a lot? I realize this is a difficult issue, but it will tell the strength of your community. The community that Robin and I live in is more like family than friends. I do not know about you but I am not worried about handing my crying baby to my mom, grandma, brother or cousin. We are family. So is our community.
What if my community does not feel the same way? In all honesty, this is a much bigger problem than a crying baby. Unless this is a group that your are reaching out to in a ministry perspective, then it is probably not a community worth investing in. Your children are now a part of you. If your friends do not want to be inconvenienced by you child, then they are not your friends. Seriously. We need families, not social clubs. Yes, there are times when children need to stay at home (more on this later), but these are fewer and further between. In our current family (community), we have several new babies and I cannot wait to see them.
What if my baby is already several months or years old? Get started immediately. It is never too late to start. It may take a bit for your child to get adjusted, but kids are incredible at adapting. Ask your friends for grace and mercy in helping your child adjust to becoming more flexible.
Interesting point An interesting point is that Sojo (our introvert and least flexible) is the one least exposed to community from birth. We were in a transitional phase of ministry after he was born and out of respect for the church we had been a part of, we separated ourselves from our community of friends. I think it could be fair to say that we had to readjust him a bit. He is now pretty flexible in social settings. He will go out and play right in the middle of the action with all the neighbor kids, then come in for a break before heading back out for more action. When we go places he is shy for the first few minutes before he starts interacting with people.
Conclusion The community life factor was definitely by accident. But it was missional accident. God has called us to love people and to make disciples. The best way to do this is to do life like a family, and we WERE NOT going to set aside the Kingdom Mission because we had a baby. We unconsciously had the end in mind from the beginning (last blog).
When I look back on our four years of parenting and look to the parenting experiences of friends and family, this factor seems to be a pretty accurate view across the board. The important things to remember is to involve your child in community ASAP, AMAP, and pass them around. Taking your child into community and guarding them from people seems to have the adverse effect, so PASS THEM AROUND.
[Jesus] saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. - Mark 1:20 In the coming days I will begin to break down some of our more interesting parenting practices, but before we can do that we need to clarify the purpose for our children's lives and our lives. In this sense, Robin and I start with the end in mind. At least the end of our hands-on parenting time goes. One day Jesus will request our children's service. They will be asked to leave us in order to follow Him. I am not talking about saying a prayer, taking a public bath and living a moral life. I am talking about going to a place or to a people they would not have considered beforehand. I am talking about living a life of mission according to Scripture. Whether that is in Africa, the projects or the suburbs is up to Him and Him alone. But contrary to popular opinion, God is not concerned as much with their comfort and safety and He is with the worlds pains and sufferings.
Giving Our Children the American Dream? If Robin and I spend our entire parenting life ensuring our children's absolute safety, making sure they have the best of the best of everything, and serving their every whimsical need up to the point Jesus calls them; then how can we expect them to step into the dangerous Kingdom of serving Jesus in the future? The Kingdom of Jesus asks them to give up everything they have and lose themselves and forget their needs for the sake of everyone else? This is why the American Dream and the consumerism that supports it is an absolute curse to the gospel and Kingdom of Jesus Christ. If you don't start from the beginning when do you start?
Alan Hirsch has put it best,
“[W]e have sought to domesticate Jesus and make Him a much more manageable lowercase “l” lord that comfortably legitimates our lifestyles. Let’s be honest: for most Christians, Jesus has come to look and behave like a nice, regular, high-conformity, somewhat-morally upright/uptight churchgoer.”
Erwin McManus observes of Christian parents,
“I’ve seen far too many kids raised in Christian homes who are indifferent towards Jesus and often carry a great disdain for the church. Sometimes it’s the result of blatant hypocrisy, but other times it’s the result of nothing less than sheer monotony and boredom. We raise our children in the cocoon of a domesticated faith and wonder why they run as far as they can to find adventure.”
Our prayer is that our children run as far into the arms of Jesus Christ that they find themselves stuck in the midst of an amazing adventure that is filled with love resulting in risk and self-sacrifice. Our hope is that our children will not be afraid to take the risk in favor of safety, and that they won't seek some stupid form of adventure because they were never given an opportunity to do something dangerous at home.
Isn't this for later stages of life? Rather than conforming Jesus into our image and allowing that Jesus to justify our way of living, which includes the way we raise our children, Robin and I have said we will live according to the Way of Jesus and begin conforming our children to this Way from the beginning. We have chosen to start with the end of our hands-on parenting life in mind. I will break down what this means in the blogs to come. As I have said many times already, infants and babies are sponges. I believe they are some fo the most intelligent life forms in the universe. Why is it easier for a child to learn a new language than it is for an adult to do so? Infants and small children are picking up things and forming the personality traits that will impact their future development.
Today I will leave you with this difficult message from Jesus,
"Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one's own self!—can't be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple." - Luke 14:25-27 (The Message)