The biggest difference for children growing up in today’s American culture—as opposed to the ancient world I grew up in—is that our society now openly opposes our faith and values. The world around us used to play a role that was not always supportive but at least typically tolerant. Those days are over.
For example, sin has lost all stigma in our culture. Shame is a relic of history. In the past porn was available but mostly hidden. Language was course but normally behind the scenes. Teen pregnancies happened but were not celebrated. Homosexuality was widespread but private. Recreational sex was prevalent but not applauded.
Christianity was once respected even among many unbelievers. Today Christianity is openly mocked in every media. Atheism is accepted as reasonable. The culture once supported faith; now it opposes faith.
The church used to be a place where people went to celebrate collective values. Now it’s a place where people–often desperate–go for answers, support and survival. Church used to be woven into the fabric of our society. Now the church must be an alternative to our society. And that is the difference.
Ministry today has to provide something unique, authentic and relational to be relevant in today’s world. It has to stand out. It has to draw a line in the sand. And that holds true to children’s and family ministry.
We must define what we stand for. We must clarify the Gospel. We must decide what battles are worth fighting and which are not. Ambivalent faith will not survive in this hostile environment. Churches that are trying to appease the cultural shift are dying. Mainline denominations are losing momentum, revealing this to be true.
To survive and thrive today, churches need to bring something substantial to their communities. I recommend two approaches.
One. Churches need to create a loving culture within the congregation. People go where there is love. We have to love people the way they are—the way Jesus loves them. Every church believes it’s a loving church. Most are not. They only love people they feel comfortable accepting. This has to change. We need to love people and the messy lives they bring with them. Ministry is messy. Love is what makes it possible.
Two. Churches need to clarify the Gospel. The good news is not about what we do for God but about what God has done for us in Jesus. Programs take a back seat. Social work takes a back seat. Values take a back seat. We need to be clear with people that behavior modification is not our primary objective. Bringing people in contact with the love and redemption of Jesus is our focus. Nothing less.
Ministry from children to senior adults is about drawing a clear line in the sand—a line that says we will love people into a faith relationship with a loving God who sent Jesus to redeem them. And that works even in the challenges of today’s world.