Tag Archives: Fear

Sacrificing your kids on the altar of missions?

origin_6989065271What’s the best thing about having kids?

No, not the cute antics or the learning to speak or walk or the hugs or total undying obedience to your every whim (ok I made that part up)…

Body shields!

Kids make the most incredible body shields.

When you don’t want to seriously consider or God forbid, actually do something that makes you feel scared or uncomfortable just hide behind your kids!

Imagine this highly improbable, never happened to me before situation… You are enjoying a nice robust discussion over a drink of your choice with a sincere and thoughtful Christian friend. The discussion turns to the issue of say… I don’t know… public schooling, urban mission, downward mobility… Good, healthy discussion ensues.  But then the debate starts to spiral dangerously out of control… out of the theology books…off the blogs…into our city…into our lives… But don’t fear good citizens our intrepid Christian has packed with him his trusty “Get out of Jail Free” card. With a merry glint in his dilated pupil he pulls out of his back pocket the trump card, the discussion-ender, the obedience crusher and with great relief places on the grand table of ideas “Yes I see the importance of these things but really I am not about to sacrifice my kids on the altar of missions!”

*crickets*

*awkward*

End of discussion

I mean who can possibly be in favour of child sacrifice right?

If the alternative is say dead kids or public schools then lets rather keep our kids alive right?

But honestly what does this quasi-spiritual, pious sounding phrase actually mean? Oh I know we have all met the kind of pastors who are so busy running around with their underpants over their trousers trying to save the world as some kind of subordinate Holy Spirit that they give off the impression that kicking a football with their kids is somehow beneath their high spiritual calling.

So perhaps if at this point we can all just start off by agreeing that kids are important. And looking after your kids in a healthy environment is important too… right… yes… we all heard that. I am firmly in favour of loving and protecting your family! I love my family and am truly humbled and shocked that God would entrust such an incredible responsibility to a knucklehead like me. I get it… I’m terrified I’m going to get it horribly wrong and screw them all up… badly…

But where does this fear come from? For that is surely what underlies this non-offspring sacrificing purported spirituality? Fear of obedience. Fear of public schools. Fear of messing up our kids. Fear of our kids getting hurt. Fear that we won’t be able to protect them. Or give them all the stuff we never had. Fear that they won’t follow Christ. Fear that they will get confused. Fear that we may have to sacrifice our own comfort or respectability. Fear of… trusting God with our lives, our family, our future…

I am by no means suggesting that all of the issues raised above are not real, complicated and nuanced. Nor am I suggesting that there cannot be legitimate reasons to answer questions of schooling, housing or area to live in either way. But please let’s stop hiding behind our kids as some kind of get out of conviction free card.

It is arrogance to think that you can protect our kids through home schooling. It is foolishness to think that you cannot equally sacrifice your kids on the altar of suburbia or comfort or status or achievement.

We, as a family, have made our choices about where live and where to school our kids. We want to be self-aware when it comes to the choices we have made. I want to deal with my idols and my fears when making decisions for my kids. It is difficult some days to send my kids to public schools in our area. I envy my friends whose choices have allowed them to send their kinds to private Christian schools. But I am not sacrificing my kids. We are intentionally choosing as a family to engage on mission in this community and that means going to the schools the kids in our area go to.

When we decided to follow Jesus we did decide to “sacrifice our lives” on the altar of mission. Our lives are now caught up in God’s greater, bigger and more beautiful story. This is what it means for us to no longer be king of our own lives. This is what it means for us to no longer idolize family. We have intentionally chosen to sacrifice some of our preferences and comforts in order to serve others. So no we don’t get to sacrifice our kids but we are as a family called to model and practice sacrificial living.

Honestly I am not sure how else I raise kids to be live sacrificially, generously or intentionally except by living, sacrificially, generously and intentionally myself. How else do I show them the character of the King who gave up all the glory of Heaven to serve and redeem us? How else do I teach my kids that Jesus came to rescue us and liberate us from our own selfish desires except by daily choosing to put to death my own desires for comfort, security and playing it safe? How else do I teach my kids that we find life when we give it away in service to the weak, the poor, the lost and the broken except by doing just this? How else do they fall in love with the beauty, grace and passion of God’s mission except by tasting it and living it?

We spend our whole lives protecting our kids, serving them, providing for their needs and their desires. Keeping them safe, comfortable and happy. And then we wonder why they grow up to be exactly what we trained them to be.

And they walk away from a Jesus who does not serve them…

Or they apathetically warm a church building designed to serve them…

And their children…

And the world dies a little bit more each day.

Photo Credit: rejik via Photopin

Why don’t we write in South Africa?

After a few coffees pastor’s tongues start to loosen up, call it a bit of Geneva courage, and they begin to speak their mind a little less cautiously. After plying a few unsuspecting but prospective lads with a few drinks the talk has begun to turn to a surprisingly similar topic. There is a growing frustration with imports. Not the cheap Chinese variety but more like the polished Western variety. Theological imports are awash on our shores. Go into any good or not so good Christian bookshop and what you will find are hundreds of books written by European or American authors. If you look hard enough you might find a South American or Indian author gathering dust in some forgotten corner. Finding a prolific African author might well be more difficult than finding a white person who supported apartheid. And dare I say, evangelicals might well be the worst?

We have this love-hate relationship with our Western poster boys (or girls for you egalitarians out there!). We cram our bookshelves with their books, fill our ears with their pod casts and stampede to their conferences if they bless us with their presence. We can quote them, discuss them and gently critique their exegesis, where necessary, but yet, we knowingly nod; they don’t really understand our context. We give that conspiratorial smile as we condemn their ignorance. “What we really need,” some particularly loquacious soul will declare “is to write our own stuff.” But yet despite the chorus of muttered agreement and nodding heads nothing will happen… until the next round of coffee that is!

So what is it about South Africa that has engendered so little serious theological reflection, so little writing and so little publishing? Why is it still more natural to go offshore when you need some expert help in a given area? No doubt we have the capacity, we have the intellectual capital, we have the thinkers, we have the experience (it is our context after all?). What is it then?

There may be contributing factors- time, money, experience, less of a writing culture and the realities of living in a third world as opposed to a first world country. But I suspect the underlying factor has more to do with us and less to do with circumstances. Fear! It sings it’s poisonous song within my heart every time I boldly clatter a few keys on my keyboard. Fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of being wrong…

It is always easier never to try than to try and fail. It is always easier to read other’s more accomplished works and to repeat their thinking than to actually engage in the rigorous discipline of your own writing and risking being wrong or not good enough.

The answer to these fears cannot be a call to pluck up some courage or find some greater sense of self-belief (we see you Oprah!). Underlying these fears are a more fundamental story, a more fundamental theological error that goes to the heart rather than the symptoms of failure.

We have allowed our identity to be shaped in this issue not by the gospel but rather by an alternate story. It is a story in which our identity is shaped by success or approval or being right. Our story might go something like this:

CREATION: I am meant to be successful in life
FALL: I am not sure I can be successful. I fear failure.
REDEMPTION: I will minimize my risk of failure by limiting my activities to things I have a reasonable confidence in my ability to achieve at least partial success. I feel good about myself and appear to be successful. (Therefore it is easier to talk about other’s writing than to risk failure through my own writing)
CONSUMMATION: If I avoid being a failure perhaps I will have been a success.

CREATION: I am meant to be loved and accepted.
FALL: I do not always feel accepted
REDEMPTION: I seek people’s approval and stay away from activities that could bring disapproval (if I write people may not like it or worse, disagree with it, then I would not be accepted)
CONSUMMATION: I hope that I will be approved by what I do.

The solution to these alternate gospels is as with most things to replace it with the better and truer Story. An identity that is rooted in the Gospel Story liberates us to write, sing, dance, plant churches or climb mountains. A gospel believing writer’s story might go something like this:

CREATION: I am meant to create, reflect on and shape God’s world for His glory
FALL: I use this God-given task to redefine my value and measure my worth to others in the light of my success or lack of it.
REDEMPTION: I am loved and accepted because of what Christ has done on my behalf already. My performance cannot change that. Christ has completed the work on my behalf; it has been declared an overwhelming success. In Him and because of his work, I am already a success.
CONSUMMATION: I find lasting approval in Jesus the one who loved me when I was still a sinner. I can rest in Jesus finished work on my behalf. I am free to create without the pressure of approval or failure.

When our identity is rooted in Christ we are set free to be wrong, to write badly or to not be liked. When we know that we are a beloved child of the most High God we are set free to create, to write, to inspire, to challenge and to risk. When we are justified in Christ we no longer have to prove ourselves through our theological correctness or our inspiring prose. We no longer have to be novel, interesting or readable in order to be successful.

Our writing probably will not be as good as our first-world counterparts but why should we expect it to be? They have been doing it for far longer than we have. They have a culture of writing, mediating, critiquing, improving and encouraging. Not to mention the obvious benefits of time and resources that financial stability and dedicated academic institutions bring. But we do not have to be like them or as good as them. We may get there, we may even surpass them one day but unless we learn to rest in our gospel identity we will forever be relegated to those whose greatest contribution will be to consume and criticise.

Not only does the gospel free us to not be as good as them but it also frees us to not be like them. The church does not need us to support a ravenous publishing industry by producing more of the same, simply with more exotic author names. No, we need to write as the church in South Africa. Our theological reflections must be coloured by our context. Our questions, our issues, our struggles as well as our strengths, our insights and our victories are all different to those of our brothers and sisters in the west. What the church worldwide needs is not window dressed publishing but it needs us to be the church and to reflect and write as the church in the context in which God has put us.

We have to write with our weaknesses, our insights, our blind spots and our questions. We may be rejected, derided or misunderstood but we can write boldly, prophetically and faithfully knowing that we rest in our gospel identity. The church does not need another western publishing industry the church needs us. We write not to be contentious or to make a name for ourselves, we write to serve the church, to love our brothers and ultimately for the glory and fame of Jesus.

Church plants take innovation and that scares people

Ed Stetzer has been posting some reflections based on his book Viral Churches.

The latest post is called “You Must Overcome Fear to See a Movement”

Here is my favourite quote, similar to some of my recent thinking.

“The truth is, the very nature of church planting usually puts planters on the forefront of innovation within their generation. One of the reasons they are so effective at reaching unchurched people is because they often allow the “how” of doing church planting to be shaped by the who, when, and where of culture. Giving space for this to happen can be a scary thing for other church or denominational leaders. People tend to be afraid of church planters, and in some ways, they probably have reason to be. If we want to see a church planting movement, however, we need to choose to overcome fear”

You can read the whole thing here