Need and outcome
Have you ever looked through binoculars? What you should see when you look through them is a round circle (called the field of view) surrounded by blackness. One or both of the lenses may be out of focus when you first look through them, and as a result, there may be two blurry fields of view. So, you close one eye, and using the focus control, correct it. Then, you repeat with the other lens. Once both lenses are individually focused, then you use the central control to align both into one field of view.
Binoculars are preferable over monoculars for most things (which have only one lens) because of the added depth perception that comes from using both eyes and both lenses. But both have to be focused in order to work.
Think of looking at your ministry through spiritual binoculars—two lenses, both of which have to be focused, and then merged into one field of view. That’s what we’re going to do here. We’re going to focus first one ministry lens, then the other—and then align them together into one spiritual field of view. How do we focus them? By looking at Scripture, of course.
Lens 1: Need
The Beauty and the Beggar
I am amazed by the focus of Peter and John in Acts 3. The story begins this way:
“Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer” (verse 1).
It was three in the afternoon. There were still a lot of visitors in Jerusalem, so the crowd flowing into the temple was extra heavy. Peter and John, still in wonder of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, joined the crowd that day.
“And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple” (verse 2).
I’ve wondered why the temple gate was called Beautiful. My good friend Jerry Thorpe says it was because it was … well … beautiful! In fact, people would stop and comment, “What a beautiful gate!” Maybe it was the color that made it so spectacular to the eyes; maybe the architecture, or the ornate design; or maybe all three—but in any case it amazed people. Maybe it was new, fresh, and clean, and that was why visitors from afar would come just to see the gate. As they neared it, everyone’s eyes would have been focused upward on the Beautiful Gate as they entered.
Beside the gate was the beggar. He was, in appearance, the antithesis of the gate. There was no beautiful color to his clothing; they were probably so old and filthy one could describe them as just shades of dirt. And there was no beautiful design to them—just the most plain of rags or material, probably torn and worn in addition to dirty. And his “architecture”—his body—was crippled. His misshapen legs were hideous, sprawled in awkward directions. They were something you looked away from, not toward. Instead of exclaiming aloud, “How beautiful!” you muttered quietly to your companion, “How awful!”
For probably 20 years at least (according to Acts 22 he was over 40 years old), this man had been carried to beg at the temple gate. Day after long day and month after long month and year after long year, he sat there and said the same words. He didn’t pay attention to faces any more, because if he looked too directly or too long, they would just look away. But somehow he felt prompted to directly ask Peter and John for help.
“When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms” (verse 3).
Likely, just as we do today with the homeless, those walking by would be secretly hoping, “I hope he won’t approach me.” Most of the time, the eyes of those entering the Beautiful Gate would have avoided looking at him completely, pretending not to notice. Probably, people were actually glad for the beauty of the gate so they didn’t have to look at the beggar.
But something highly unusual happened.
“But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, ‘Look at us!’” (verse 4).
Nobody said that to a beggar—normally! Nobody actually tried to get the attention of a beggar; that was something a regular person avoided. It was so unusual that the beggar looked up, and his and Peter’s eyes locked. Then, with a few words from Peter, and the power of the Holy Spirit, his life was forever changed.
“And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!’ And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God” (verses 5-8).
Think about where Peter and John looked: everyone else in the crowd going into the temple gazed at the environment and never saw the beggar. Peter and John saw the beggar, and probably never noticed the Beautiful Gate. They also saw beyond the surface need: everyone else saw him asking for money, but Peter saw the deeper need—healing—and believed God could provide it.
This is a potent, sobering reminder to us in children’s ministry to do the same—to see the need of the beggar. Now let’s look at the other lens.
Shambles or Shame
Let me ask you a Bible trivia question, and you think of the answer before you read on. In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, we learn of his (Nehemiah’s) journey to Jerusalem. He was likely born in exile and left Susa, the palace in the capital of Persia, to travel there.
Here’s the question: Why did he go?
Not fair looking down further to see the answer!
If you answered, “to rebuild the broken-down wall,” you are just like nearly everyone else of whom I’ve asked the question—wwrrooong! Think with me. Chapter one of Nehemiah opens with him hearing of the conditions in Jerusalem, and it so moves him that he mourns and fasts for days. Days! Does it make sense that a bunch of out-of-place stones would be a reason to mourn? And fast? For days? (Nehemiah 1:4) No, there’s got to be more.
In chapter two, Nehemiah is serving before the king in his role as cupbearer. That meant, of course, that his job—one for only the most trusted servant—was to taste the palace food and drink before the king did to make sure it had not been poisoned. Nehemiah’s face looks so sad that the king takes notice of it. I’m sure Nehemiah is doing all that he could to look healthy, because looking sick could cause quite a stir in the king’s court. But he can’t keep from it—the king notices, and asks, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? There is nothing but sadness of heart” (Nehemiah 2:2). Let me ask again—with so much at stake, does it make sense that a bunch of out-of-place stones would be a reason for such a downcast face? No, no—there’s got to be more. Then, later in chapter two, we learn what it is.
Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach” (Nehemiah 2:17).
Aaa-ha! What would cause Nehemiah to mourn and fast for days—and for his face to look so sad—was not the ruins, but the reproach. He was not concerned so much with the physical condition of the wall, but the spiritual outcome—that the reputation of Jerusalem (and therefore, the reputation of the God of Jerusalem) was shamed.
We don’t understand it today, because our cities don’t have walls, but in Nehemiah’s day, the wall of a city was a source of pride. No respectable city would be without one. But the people who lived in Jerusalem had been daily walking over and around and in sight of the broken stones, and no one was doing anything to fix it! Jerusalem, the city of God, was a disgrace!
So why did Nehemiah go to Jerusalem? Not to rebuild the wall, but to remove the shame. Rebuilding the wall, however, was the activity of how he removed the disgrace. Notice that his “success report” in Nehemiah 6:15,16 confirms this.
|Report of the activity completed||“So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days.|
|Report of the political victory||When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence;|
|Report of the spiritual outcome||for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.”|
Identifying Spiritual Outcomes
Let’s bring this principle home: suppose someone is visiting your church and another church leader is showing him around. They come into your children’s ministry program and watch for a minute or two. Then the visitor turns to you and asks, “What are you doing here?” What is your answer? (Cooperate with me, please—think of your answer before you read on.)
- Did you tell the visitor about the program activity that is going on? “Well, we are finishing up table time, which will end in a few minutes—then the kids will all go into the next room for our large group lesson.” That’s accurate—but it’s not the best focus to lock on. Focus failure!
- Did you describe the workers’ activity? “We are in a relationship-building time right now, and then we will take them into the next room where they will be taught a lesson.” That’s so important—but it doesn’t force examination of outcomes. My assessment: focus failure again!
- Did you describe the curriculum content? “The kids are learning the themes of the books of Old Testament history, and how each relates to the story of redemption.” That’s so good—but it is short-sighted. My assessment: focus failure the third time!
- Did you describe the spiritual activity? “We are discipling these kids in their spiritual walk?” Really good, too—but still only describes the present activity. Focus failure number four!
- Or did you describe the spiritual outcome? “We are taking one step today toward each of these children becoming lifelong followers of Jesus Christ.”
Go back to Nehemiah 2:17, and notice the progression of Nehemiah’s statement.
- He pointed out the present condition: “You see the bad situation we are in …”
- He provided the supporting facts: “… that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire.”
- He proposed a physical action: “… Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem …”
- He projected a spiritual outcome: “so that we will no longer be a reproach.”
Now let’s practice. Suppose you follow the same pattern with the visitor, and you respond to him with what is on the right in the table below.
|Present condition||“These children are just beginning to form their life patterns and their worldview.|
|The supporting facts||They are at the stage of life where they have the greatest capacity for learning.|
|The physical action||So, we are helping them master the big story of the Bible …|
|The spiritual outcome||… that they will have strong foundations of truth that will help them live for God all their lives.”|
Do you see? The OTHER side of “Double Vision” is to have a clear focus of the desired spiritual outcome. Somebody needs to lock on to this focus—and that somebody needs to be you. YOUR focus in children’s ministry must go further than simply the need—or the activity; it needs to lock in on the spiritual outcome.
These two things must become your “double vision”—your two ministry focuses: the needs of the children and the desired spiritual outcome. Our model for this section looks like this: when we see them both clearly and they merge together for us into one field of view, we will have the right focus in our ministry.
Between his hectic schedule as an author and speaker on children’s ministry, Larry is still trying to figure out how he is going to rebuild the leaky shower that he tore out.