Matt Miofsky, founding and lead pastor of The Gathering, a multisite United Methodist congregation in St. Louis, Missouri, came to North Georgia last week to present an education opportunity for church leaders. I was unable to go, but dear friends called me immediately afterwards to chat about what they heard and one gifted me with the books discussed. As a student of church culture and a satisfied customer of the local church, I began reading Eight Virtues of Rapidly Growing Churches as soon as I got home because, in the words of the author, “We are all church planters now.” (p xviii)
In elementary science class we learned how healthy things grow, but not all growth is healthy. Same goes for the local church. The anecdotes shared by the authors are not intended as a blueprint for church growth, but hearing the stories of successful church planters of today these common virtues can’t be denied nor ignored. As Methodists, we are known as a revivalist movement. We are accustomed to breaking barriers, engaging in holy habits, disagreeing in love, gathering in community, and serving the marginalized. With all that in mind, the testimonies of the various United Methodist planters quoted in the book speak loud and clear for today. I’ll cover two here and two each week as it relates to children’s ministry.
Can I put out the challenge that if it’s good for children, it’s good for everybody? Just sayin’.
God is indeed working miracles in our midst. We have no idea what the children will do with their love for Jesus, but I know of the miracles that it has taken for some of their parents to be here. “Acting as if the Spirit is moving changes everything.” (p 3). Praying fervently, specifically, and boldly can get us moving in the right direction. I am one of those miracles. I know the stories of some of my parents and they are those miracles. I need to remind them they are and call how they are claiming their kid’s lives for Jesus as a priority and call it the miracle it is. “Rapidly growing churches have figured out how to not only take risks but also deal with failure in a way that does not thwart future bold decisions.” (pg 11) My home church where I received excellent ministry training from amazing clergy and lay folk was never afraid of taking risks. We’d try something, set the goals, debrief afterward with a clear look at what worked, wipe off the table what didn’t, and share how to edit to move forward. It wasn’t personal, but it had to be fruitful. We did ministry in love and with only one fear: the fear we would disappoint the Holy Spirit which led us to do ministry in the first place.
Deep in our Methodist DNA is an order, a method, to organize discipleship with Christian education alongside service. We must be great at assimilation, helping a guest to know the path for growing as a deeply committed follower of Jesus. We do this in relationships in small groups, around tables not rows, and in community. People need an organized plan. Children need an organized discipleship plan. Children go through multiple developmental stages from 0-5th grade. We can’t depend on them ‘catching’ their faith. We need a plan for developmentally appropriate faith formation experiences in Christian education and the systems in place to move everyone through their next steps. We are in partnership with parents and grandparents. When a child is baptized, we vow to ‘so order our lives in the example of Christ….’ We are not event planners, but rather disciple-makers and we can provide families with the next steps to ‘so order their families’ to love their kids to Jesus. “The question in Methodism is not ‘When were you saved?;’ it’s ‘How are you growing in grace just now?” (p 20) “Assimilating people as disciples has to be our primary focus.” (p 22) The local church can do many things, but our marching orders are to ‘make disciples of Jesus Christ.’
More to come next week!
“Rapidly growing churches are like ducks. They look placid on the water. But underneath they’re paddling like crazy!” (p 17)