Posts Tagged With: Church

What right do we have?

An email recently came across my desk from the Australian Christian Lobby urging me to contact Bill Shorten to express my disapproval of the proposed changes to the Marriage Act which will allow people of the same sex to marry.

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Two becoming one?

I will say clearly upfront, my belief is that marriage is an institution created by God, between a man and woman  (first modelled by Adam and Eve) for life. But I have a number of problems:

1. I live in a democratic country and it now seems that a large majority of my fellow citizens no longer believe that my faith held definition is correct.  So how far should or can I go in enforcing my understanding?  This is in contrast to promoting my understanding under the banner of free speech which I believe, as a Christian, I’m responsible to do with my life and words at all times.

2. My second question bites more deeply. If we who are evangelical/Bible believing Christians have such a high view of Biblical marriage, why have we allowed it to be devalued through our own behaviours within our own Christian community? Divorce rates in the church, even though a little lower than mainstream society, are still high. Cohabitation by church goers is also on the increase. My struggle is that we are calling others to standards that we ourselves are, increasingly, failing to hold.

3. Are there other solutions to this issue which meet the requirements of both the churches and society as whole?  In many European countries marriage is a social contract which is entered into at the town hall.  This contract gives you access to government benefits and a legally recognised status. Those who are Christian then go to a church to seek the church’s blessing. If we took an approach such as this it would separate church and state and leave the church free to bless those who believe in a Christian marriage, and it would also free it from being a “sub contractor” for marriages.

Has the time come for the Christian community to take seriously the need to make the Bible’s views attractive, not through legislation, but through the winsomeness of her own lifestyle? Like the early church, our faith driven lifestyle, should encourage our neighbours to want what God has bestowed on us.

Categories: Children, Church | Tags: , , | 15 Comments

The Wesleys’ Hymns

This past weekend my wife and I attended a Wesley Hymn Fest, where, as you can imagine, we were led in the enthusiastic singing of Wesleyan hymns.  Now I don’t come from the Methodist tradition but there was something very special about 250 people being led by a small group of musicians, pipe organ and choir, declaring in song  messages of hope, faith and truth.

I was struck by the wonderful words of the hymns.  Charles Wesley, often assisted or supported by brother John, knew his Scripture and wove this understanding into his verses.  Many hymns were inspired by particular Bible passages, or were Bible passages put to music. In response to Isaiah 51:9 he penned:

Arm of the Lord, awake, awake!
Thine own immortal strength put on!
With terror clothed, hell’s kingdom shake,
And cast thy foes with fury down!

The hymns also reveal a great understanding of the human condition. In an era when many children died young one can feel the tension of faith and pain that Wesley was only too familiar with in a hymn we didn’t sing last Sunday:

Dead, dead! the child I loved so well!
Transported to the world above!
I need no more my heart conceal;
I never dared indulge my love:
But may I not indulge my grief
And seek in tears a sad relief?

The language is quaint but the messages are still intimately personal:

My God, I am Thine, what a comfort divine,
What a blessing to know that my Jesus is mine!
In the heavenly Lamb thrice happy I am,
And my heart it doth dance at the sound of His name.

The image of the dancing heart is uplifting! Charles Wesley wrote nearly 6000 hymns which were often composed for special occasions. And still there were many others from the era who wrote fabulous hymns from John Newton’s Amazing Grace to Isaac Watts’  When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Watts was a comparative sluggard as he only wrote 750 hymns. And there are others: William Cowper, Frances Havergal … and all the way back to Bernard of Clairvaux  to name only three.

In many churches today these hymns have disappeared under the weight of modern songs and choruses.  Every era is inspired by the Spirit anew but we shouldn’t forget these incredible songs from the history of the church – a history that extends all the way to the early church. In the case of the Wesleys it was a history of renewal and revival. It would be good if we had links to these brothers and sisters from the past every time we met in worship.

Here is one of my favourite singers singing one of Charles Wesley’s songs.  Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band also have a great album of Wesley’s songs called Paradise Found:

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, hymns, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

Including Children in Church Community

There is a small but growing group of Christians who are eager to see the children of the church integrated into the life of the Church body and not just pandered to by programs. Although programs, in and of themselves can be quite useful, they can also stymie the discussions that churches and families need to have about faith formation in the life of their children. Programs by themselves often focus on knowledge (cognition) and what is missed is the beautiful mystery of faith and the excitement of disciple development.  I have written on previous occasions about the importance of the child’s vocation in the church. (Here is just one example).

Last night I heard David Csinos, who describes himself as an author, speaker, practical theologian, husband, researcher of children’s spirituality, and former children’s photo 4pastor, speak in Geelong. This was encouraging for a variety of reasons. It reminded me that there are more voices and often more articulate voices speaking out on this issue and it also caused me to reflect that this is not “rocket science” but requires families, churches and church leaders to engage in a prayerful discussion of how faith is developed in the most vulnerable and important members of our church communities.

If you wish to explore this important notion I have included some websites and books to explore:

  • David’s blog:   http://davecsinos.com/
  • The Journal of Family and Community Ministries (which is free to subscribe to): http://www.familyandcommunityministries.org/
  • A wonderful book is :  Children’s Ministry in the way of Jesus by Ivy Beckwith and David Csinos. This is a good place to begin your reflections if you haven’t started already, or to continue your journey.
  • Is it a Lost Cause: Having the Heart of God for the Church’s Children by Marva Dawn.
  • And if you look under Child Theology you will encounter more of my thoughts/musings on the issue.
  • Another worthwhile approach is taken by the Child Theology Movement.

 

 

 

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, Christianity, Faith, Family | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jesus Unicorn

Today my wife, Hetty, is presenting a guest blog on the topic of children and worship.

Jesus Unicorn

Courtesy Google  images

Courtesy Google images

A young girl was given a notebook and some colouring pencils and pens while she sat in the pew with her family.  After a few weeks, her parents suggested that she listen to the sermon while she drew. By the end of the sermon she had drawn some pictures of a unicorn with the words ‘Jesus Unicorn’ above them.  Her parents were amused.
 
Some questions:
 
  • What did her parents believe children should be doing in a worship service?
  • Did they give her any guidance about what she could do with the writing and drawing materials?
  • What was the underlying message the child got concerning how she should behave in the worship service and from her parents’ subsequent suggestion?
 
Some ideas:
 
If you were her parents, how might you encourage her to participate in the worship service?
How would you begin a discussion with this child about ‘Jesus Unicorn’ which could lead her to a fuller experience of worship?
 
Paper and pencils are fine to keep a child’s hands busy, to keep a child quiet, and even as a stepping stone to taking notes of the sermon but it should never stop there.
Children can draw the stories they hear (and they should be hearing God’s stories, not just theological concepts) or their feelings. There should be a clear understanding of when they can draw/write and when they should be participating in the singing, praying, etc.  Parents should follow up with the child later. It may help if the parents also occasionally used paper and pencils during the sermon, and the family shared their pictures afterwards.
 
A warning:
 
Be careful not to let this become another kind of ‘school’ activity.
Help the child to use the writing and drawing, as well as the words they’re hearing and the images they’re seeing, as a way to explore their understanding of God, and the worship of Him.
 
 
Hetty Stok
Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, christian education, Christianity, Church, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Some People Get It!

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Excited by the view

It was a rainy day yesterday as we were walking around the Port of Echuca.  It is the home of the largest collection of working paddle steamers in the world. Daily they paddle up and down the Murray river. At one point along the dock you can walk onto a section that looks out over the river. There is a protective fence where the designers have simply, but cleverly, placed glass panels at “little children” height so that they can look out too.  We were there as two small boys, fresh from jumping in puddles, saw these windows, raced up, looked out, and were thrilled by the sights.

If only churches could see this wonderful metaphor. Too often in worship the fences are that high that only the adults can “see” or experience what is going on. For children the service is an hour and 30 minutes of tedium, or they are sent out to “jump in a few puddles” while the adults do the real thing.

Too many churches, in my experience, either ignore the fact that there are children in church or send them out to be entertained elsewhere. There are no “windows” to enable them to participate and adults are often unable or uwilling to hold them up to see over the fence. So the implied message children receive is that there is nothing here for you. In other words, the view, or real worship, is essentially for adults only.

Children are people of God too. Children are called by Jesus as well. Children are in fact a model for us to follow. “Unless you become like one of these …” Too often however, children are left behind a windowless fence and not included and left out of the worship dialogue altogether.  They are not given a position from where they can be part of, experience and participate in the worship of the whole family of God.

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The Port of Echuca on a sunnier day with some of its paddle steamers.

What can we do to give children kid high windows from which, they too, can be part of the worship by the people of God? What can we do as worshipping communities to reduce the walls which prevent children from being part of the singing, listening, praying, reading. giving and hearing that is our dialogue with God on a Sunday?

Churches are losing young people in droves.  What are we doing to make worship an unmissable part of their lives?  One part of the answer is to ensure that the child’s place in the community of worshippers is real and appreciated as well as age appropriate – that they can see through the fences. This does not mean that the worship service needs to be “dumbed down”, but it does mean that the worshipping community needs to think of genuine ways in which children, in fact all ages, have a meaningful encounter with their God when the community gathers for public worship.

I would even suggest that if we as adults are more intentional about including children, that is, giving them “windows” and holding them up, that we too will be enriched by the process. Moreover, and most importantly, God will be honoured and worshipped with greater integrity, as all His children gather before Him.

Categories: Child Theology, Children | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Confused World

I have been watching with concern and bemusement the attempts of our government to halt the execution of two Australians in Indonesia.  My hope and prayer is that they succeed even though this seems very unlikely.  However, this situation highlights the inconsistency of our society.  While huge efforts are being put into saving these two, thousands of unborn children are murdered every year without the legal challenges and TV and newspaper headlines.  The moral outrage at killing two Australians doesn’t match our government’s efforts with asylum seekers in detention.

The 6th Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” is a declaration of the importance and value of life. It reminds us that humanity was created in God’s image.  In the words of John Donne, “Any man’s death diminishes me.” Human life is precious but governments and corporations have devalued them to “economic units”.  Movie producers and and game designers have made death a form of entertainment.  Even religions murder others to advance and justify their beliefs. Worse still, we have come to believe many of the corrupted messages that swirl around us today. In my naive and simple way I believe it is time to reclaim two truths: 1. Humanity was made in the image of God (a huge discussion just by itself!) and because of that, 2. Human life is precious. If we believed that passionately it would change the tenor of our discussions and behaviours.  Our view of others would begin to change and our view of ourselves would change.

As a Christian I understand that only the Holy Spirit changes hearts but we have a challenge and responsibility to remind ourselves and the world what a gift life is.

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, community, Life, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 9 Comments

They Will Know …

In my last blog I finished with the statement, “My consistency and that of the Christian community to a gospel life style should be the first line of defence against assaults on Christian values and principles.”

A number of people have responded to me with regard to that comment. It struck a chord. Christians are apt to accuse the world of persecuting them (and it does) but we often forget, particularly in the West, that our greatest witness is our life style, and in the last few decades that has been badly tarnished.  We have had the disturbing litany of fallen televangelists, abuse of children in Christian institutions, corruption, unedifying bickering and … sadly, the list goes on. I haven’t even mentioned my own poor personal example to the neighbourhood in which I live.

Picture 316cropThose of us who are old enough will remember the ’60s song “We are one in the Spirit“. It ends with the chorus, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” In John 13:34  Jesus gives his disciples a new command: “Love one another”  and he adds in verse 35, By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love, agape love – sacrificial, giving not expecting in return love, is to be the badge of the Christian.

Two thousands years later it is still a difficult task for us.  We are good at making our views heard on a whole range of social and moral issues.  But often these voices are strident, judgmental and graceless with no sense of the compassion that Christ showed a fallen world.

Maybe we, and I certainly include myself, need to go back to basics. We need to go back to the attitude of grace that God called his children to have and show.  So when we are persecuted or martyred or pilloried in the media, we would hope that what the world sees is not the hissing of people like cornered snakes, but the face of a Christlike family of people who share the grief of their master for a fallen world.

 

Categories: christian, Christianity, Church, community, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Voice of Inspired Youth

A  few weeks ago I went to an evening church service where two of my students were going to preach for about 20 minutes each.  These likable lads are not always mature or wise in their decisions and behaviour – but they are great young people.

To be honest, even though they are talented young men I didn’t expect too much from them in their first sermon. I was wrong! These lads spoke/preached and delivered the word of God with a passion, zeal, maturity and sophistication. They wove Scripture upon Scripture to declare God’s word to the congregation. Like any good preacher should – they spoke for God.

I reflected later that I heard more of God’s word in these 40 minutes than I had in many so-called sermons in other churches in recent years. They did not delve into pop psychology, glib jokes and puerile anecdotes. Their aim was not to tickle ears but to speak a word that was on their hearts to the heart of the congregation.

I went home humbled. God spoke to me that evening though two of my students. God reminded me that young people have a place, purpose and word to speak in the lives of our congregations. He has gifted all of us, not just the “mature”.

Categories: Child Theology, Children, christian, Christianity, Church, Faith | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Helping Our Children Grow in Faith – a review

keeleyOver the years I have become reticent about recommending books as I have discovered that books often resonate with a person because of the time and place they are in individually. However, I will overcome my reluctance and challenge Christian parents, teachers and Children’s ministry workers to read “Helping Our Children Grow in Faith” by Robert J. Keeley (Baker Books 2008).

Essentially Keeley unpacks 6 principles that he believes (and I concur) are important in nurturing faith in children.

  • Children need to be nurtured in their faith by the whole community of faith, not just parents.
  • Children need to be part of the whole life of the church.
  • Children need to know that God is mysterious.
  • Bible stories are the key to helping children know a God who is mysterious and who knows them for who they are.
  • Faith and moral development are both important but they are not the same thing.
  • Children should be part of congregational worship and they should have opportunities to experience developmentally appropriate worship.

Not only are these 6 points beautifully unwrapped but a lot of the incidental teaching along the way is very valuable too. For example, when discussing the power of story, he touches on the danger of simply attaching morals to Bible stories. He suggests that if we simply connect a story to a moral (“Dare to be a Daniel or David” – my examples) we prevent children pondering what God may be teaching them.

He also reflects on a passion of mine: children in worship. He says, “For children to have the kind of faith we want them to have, they need to be part of the worship experience.” Here I would like to have seen, at least, a mention of the impact that children have on the faith of adults as they can inspire us with their naïve simplicity.

Overall, an excellent book that is worth reading, re-reading and discussing with family, colleagues and congregation so that we can all assist in the nurturing of that all import faith in the most vulnerable in our families, schools and churches.

Categories: Book Review, Child Theology, Children, christian, christian education, Christianity, Church | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Dark Side of the Church

Very recently I asked for readers to respond to a query I had about how people remember church when they were children (https://pieterstok.com/2013/07/13/your-experience-of-church-as-a-child/). I am still keen on hearing your responses.

One thing I didn’t expect (maybe I should have), was the number of private emails I have received from people recalling the abuse they received. This abuse sometimes arose because church authorities deliberately turned away from events in their families and congregation, or was perpetrated by them. This abuse ranged from spiritual and emotional neglect through to the more sordid examples we see in the news on a daily basis

20120411-214403.jpgIt reminded me that in my years as a pastor I came across too many examples of events that had never been dealt with properly. The “lets sweep it under the carpet” syndrome was all too prevalent. In an effort to protect the church’s reputation we have mired it more deeply in hidden and unconfessed sin and with no real thought for the victims.

Jesus weeps at the sins of His people but the tears must be even greater when these atrocities touch the innocent and vulnerable who are largely made up of women and children.

So far I have seen two main results of this hidden abuse revealed in the emails. Some people turn their back on the church and faith and want nothing to do with either. This is a tragedy of eternal proportions. The other result is those people who, usually through a Christlike mentor or partner, have, at some future occasion, dealt with the abuse and have come out the other side with a stronger faith and a greater awareness of God’s love for them. This is miraculous!

These emails have convinced me that the issue of children in the church is a crucial issue at so many different levels. What do we do to protect them? How do we make them feel that they belong? What is their role in the church and what can we learn from them? These are just some of the questions!

And from you dear readers, I would still love to hear what you have to say.

Categories: Children, christian, Christianity, Church, Ethics, Faith, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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