When You Say Easy They Hear Unimportant

We live in the golden age of children’s ministry curriculum resources. Lessons that were once written by teachers who were not professionals but did what they had to because children’s ministry curriculum was no-existant or challenging to come by. We now have the opposite problem. We have more options than we have ever had. The difficulty is finding the right one for our church. We have video-driven curriculums, free curriculum, curriculum that is written by our denomination we have fun ones and others that are more serious. Yet despite their diversity, each of these curriculums has one thing in common. They all claim their curricula are “easy to use.”

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The technology that has promised to give us more free time seems to be consuming more than it provides. We have our kids doing more activities, and we are busier than ever. We as kids ministry leaders get this because it’s true of us as well. So when our curriculum providers do the heavy lifting for us, we don’t argue. When they tell us their curriculum is easy to use, we dutifully pass the message along. How do I know? I have done it. The problem is that when we say “easy,” what our volunteers hear us say is “unimportant.”

We unintentionally build a culture that requires very little from our volunteers, and what we get is not discipleship for them or from them. What we get are leaders who love kids but see what we do as just another thing they do rather than the most important thing. Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples.

Lots of things are discussed in the kidmin community, like how to make our programs more fun or pull off events on a small budget. There is nothing wrong with these discussions; what I am becoming more aware of is the reality that very few conversations are centered on discipleship and Christlikeness. Christ commanded us to do one thing make disciples Paul obsessed over one thing, Christlikeness. We should likewise obsess over these as well.

How do we change the conversation from ease to importance?

  1. Change our vocabulary. – Please don’t say we need your help; it is really easy. Explain that what you will be doing isn’t easy, but it is meaningful. People want to make a difference. If they feel that they are not making a difference, they will quit.
  2. Don’t do all the heavy lifting. – Challange the people you lead to prep during the week to think about the kids they will be teaching. Challenge your leaders to prepare what they are going to say. Challenge them to pray for the kids that will be there that morning.
  3. Don’t look at those you lead as volunteers filling a hole. – Look at those who are volunteering as a person who needs to be discipled, just as much if not more than the kids they are leading. Often people don’t disciple others because they have never been disciplined themselves. Show them what discipleship looks like by disciplining them, don’t just tell them to do it.

People want to make a difference, not fill a hole. Let them. Don’t make things easy. Teach them how to do what they do well so they will push through the difficulty and become good at what they do. In pushing through and growing as a leader, they would become more proficient in what they do that they make complicated things, and stressful situations look easy.

Kids Can Handle More Than You Think

One of my favorite moves of all time is UP by Pixar. Up always reminds me that kids can handle hard things. In the course of the two hours this “kids” movie addresses, death, miscarriage, and divorce. How does Pixar tackle those topics? With story. The story of UP is simple but powerful. Up is really fun and most of all it’s incredibly moving. I think as parents or leaders we tend to protect kids from difficult topics or shelter them from the hard stories of the Bible. To avoid the temptation to skip hard conversation because kids aren’t ready.

How do you handle hard truths for kids?

  1. Start by not avoiding hard truths because they are hard.
  2. Tell them the truth in a story – Jesus did this before Pixar did.
  3. Tell them with humor – Use appropriate humor to disarm and protect the kids you are speaking to.
  4. Be truthful – Don’t lie to make it easier, don’t skip parts of the Bible. The idea that certain parts of the Bible are not appropriate for kids isn’t true. The question isn’t appropriateness but rather “How can I teach this truth in an age-appropriate way.”
  5. Show kids Jesus – teach kids that when we don’t fully understand everything which we won’t because we are finite. What we do know about Jesus allows us to trust what we can never know to Jesus.
  6. Lastly, tell them – tell them of the hard stuff you have been through and how Jesus has been faithful in the middle of it all.

How We Stop Short in the Debate on Christians and Alcohol

I came across this article on Facebook a few years back “Can a Christian drink alcohol?” It did an excellent job of warning people of the very real dangers of alcohol. It’s important. People need to hear those dangers loud and clear. Alcohol, when abused, causes much pain. My grandfather was an alcoholic and was apart of AA his whole life. I understand.

The problem with the debate of alcohol is every person I have heard preach against it has stopped short of the real problem alcohol represents. In stopping short, they make alcohol out to be evil when there is nothing in scripture or in 2000 years of church writing that would show alcohol as evil. Alcohol is not evil; the abuse of it is. The excessive reliance on it is. Alcohol does not ruin marriages as the author of the above link purports. It’s something far more sinister that ruins marriages. Just talking about the adverse side effects of alcohol as he does isn’t even intellectually honest.

I grew up in a church culture that, through proof-texting and liberal interpretation of the scripture taught that Jesus never drank wine, he only drank grape juice. I have also been in situations where I have been teased by Christians because I was not drinking alcohol. Both are wrong. We stop short in the debate over the consumption of alcohol when we fail to communicate and that the problem is not fermented grapes; the problem is you and me. We hammer on the symptom but fail to address the cancer far below.

Love how Tim Keller, in his commentary on Romans, addresses the Idols of our hearts.

In the book of Romans, Paul develops a profound anatomy of sin. He shows us that sin goes much deeper than mere behavioral violations; it begins at the motivational level. This is why, as he will go on to explain in Romans 8, sin cannot be resisted through mere willpower. The only cure to sin through the application of gospel truth by the Holy Spirit, at the motivational level.

1. Our root problem is our unwillingness to glorify Godto give him the centrality that is his due

2. Therefore, we choose to create things to be our “gods.” In order to deny God control of our lives, each of us chooses a created thing (or things) to live for and worship instead.

3. Therefore, each life is distorted by a life lie. At the base of all our life choices, our emotional structure, and our personality is a false belief system centered on an idol—the belief that something besides God can give us the life and joy that only God can give. We have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (1:25). We look to something besides Jesus to be our “savior,” our “righteousness,” the thing that makes us good and acceptable.

4. But each life is a kind of bondage. No one is actually “free,” for we must serve whatever it is we have decided to live for—so people have “worshiped and served created things” (1:25). Since every human being must have an ultimate “good” by which all other choices are made, and values are judged, we all “offer [our]selves” to something (6:16). Therefore, every human being is in “covenant service” to a “lord” that works out its will through our bodies (6:16-19).

5. Even after conversion, our old, false saviors/lords and their attendant false belief systems still distort our lives—unless the power of the Holy Spirit continually renews our minds and hearts (7:14-25).

6. The key to freedom is the application of the gospel of grace. “Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (6:14).

The debate we rarely have in Christian circles is what we are clinging to more than Jesus. Why, when we feel scared or lonely, do we turn to the abuse of alcohol to numb our pain. The cancer below the symptom of alcohol abuse is sin. Pure and simple. I have counseled many many marriages, and you know what destroys far more marriages than alcohol? iPhones, iPads, and computers. I don’t see people tearing up Facebook to ban and demonize those. Lets bring the debate back to what the whole of scriptures are trying to get at and that is the idols we have lodged in our hearts, enthroned were Christ alone should be. When we understand what Christ has done for us, we are free not to drink because having a beer doesn’t make you godly, cool,or relevant, and we are free to drink because Christ is our treasure.

Anxiety and Digital Minimalism

Why Digital Minimalism

This year was one of the more challenging years for me and many I know. In twenty-plus years of ministry, I have never had to meet with a therapist. I am not against them; I just have never felt the need. I never feel lonely, rarely get upset, and have never been depressed. I have experienced loss and have walked others through loss, but none of it has ever brought me to a place of anxiety. This year all that changed.

This year I felt like I failed. I felt like I was unable to protect the people God by his providence place in my care. That feeling started as a panic attack and grew into anxiety in a way I have never experienced in my life. I wasn’t prepared for how it made me feel and for how it affected me on an emotional level. It got to the point I had to see a professional counselor. We talked through it. He told me that what I had been through was traumatic. We talked about boundaries relationally and interestingly enough electronically. I took some steps to minimize my exposure to certain groups on social media, and I was surprised by how much it helped.

I didn’t realize why limiting my exposure to social media helped until I picked up a book I had heard a lot about called Digital Minimalism. In his book Cal Newport describes Digital Minimalism this way:

“Digital Minimalism A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

Cal Newport

Studies show that I’m not alone. In the Preventative Medicine Reports, they have done studies that have shown associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents. High users of screens were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Fourteen to 17-year-olds spending 7+ h/day with screens (vs. 1 h/day) were more than twice as likely ever to have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety. High users of screens were also more likely to have seen or needed to have been seen by a mental health professional, and more likely to have taken medication for a psychological issue in the last 12 months.

The problem with most young people and many of us not so young people is that we fill every spare moment digesting digital information. The cracks in our lives are filled in, we have lost the art of solitude. We no longer remember how to be alone with ourselves. We fill our lives with the airbrushed curated moments of the lives of our digital friends and wonder why we are filled with anxiety.

It’s now possible to completely banish solitude from your life. Thoreau and Storr worried about people enjoying less solitude. We must now wonder if people might forget this state of being altogether.

Cal Newport

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,”

Blase Pascal

Over the years, I have taken some steps towards Digital minimalism. I rarely post pictures of my kids online; if I do, I never use their names. I also frequently delete the iPhone apps for social media sites off of my phone. This year however I plan to try and take more drastic steps to be a lifelong digital minimalist.

I have to regain the ability to be present with myself and those I love. I have to allow my mind to wander to process the truly painful things in my life rather than stuff them by mindlessly scrolling Instagram. When I am off screens, I come up with new ideas new thoughts. When I am on screens, I see what others are doing and say why didn’t I think of that. Envy replaces wonder.

I need to minimize the hold that my phone in general and social media, in particular, has on my life. Am I going to become a digital hermit? No. The ship has sailed on that. I have come up with a plan to minimize the hold that social media has on me. So that I am freer to enjoy the world around me, create more, and have hobbies, I appreciate that I can look at later and say, “I made that.”

My Plan

  1. Delete all social media apps and games on my phone. Block all access to social media even though the browser on my phone.
  2. No longer click likes or post comments on other people’s posts. I have had several “Facebook fights,” and at the end of the day, they are still wrong (lol), and I’m upset over what they said or how I said something.
  3. I still plan on using social media to post blog posts (which I hope to post more of not being on Instagram so much) and to pass on information and posts I found helpful.
  4. Use my phone to listen to books on my commute, text, call, and write blog posts and start working on a book remotely.
  5. Use my computer exclusively to check social media a few times a week.
  6. I will still use social media for work-related issues just not as an anesthetic for the boredom that makes life….life.
  7. I am going to remove the news app from my phone and all notifications. I will now get my news from Allsides.com free of ads and partisan nonsense.

A foundational theme in digital minimalism is that new technology, when used with care and intention, creates a better life than either Luddism or mindless adoption.

Cal Newport

My Hope

I don’t think everyone should do this. I am telling you all this, so you know why I may not like your pictures or posts. It’s not that I don’t want to connect with you that I want to try and regain the time to really connect with you, not just pretend that I am. Please text me or call me but know that if you send me things through Instagram or Facebook, it may be a while before I get back to you.

I don’t know if this will work, but from what I have seen from the electronic boundaries I have set already, I think it will be okay. This isn’t “goodbye” it’s just “I’ll get back to you just not really quickly.”

My Kid Got a Phone For Christmas! Now What?

One common question I get from parents is around cell phones and screens. Parents want to know how much time is too much. They want to know how to filter content and protect their kids from harm. Their concerns are valid. In fact, parents who are concerned about the onslaught of social media and wired devices are the exception. Most parents today did not grow up as digital natives; they remember what the world was like before it became digitized.

The concerns around screen time are not only valid but are more severe than first realized. The empty streets that used to be filled with kids playing sports and riding bikes to stave off boredom are apparent all around us. The evidence of our kids sitting in front of screens is seen in the rise of childhood obesity. What is a newer revelation for parents is the connection between social media usage, screen time and mental health. A recent study has shown that “High users of screens were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Fourteen to 17-year-olds spending 7+ h/day with screens (vs. 1 h/day) were more than twice as likely ever to have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety. High users are also twice as likely to have been seen by a mental health professional and to have taken medication for a psychological issue.”

So what do we do? In this ever-connected age, we feel helpless to fight this wave of connectedness. That, in reality, is producing a generation of kids who are more connected than ever but filled with more anxiety and loneliness than ever.

What do we do?
Delay, Filter, and Monitor.

Delay – giving them a phone

You should delay giving your kids a cell phone for a bit longer than you feel comfortable. The benefits of waiting outweigh the convenience of being able to reach your kids whenever you want to reach them. I initially thought we would wait until sixteen when they start to drive. We ended up changing to 13 when they began taking long bus rides to sporting games for school. I didn’t want our kids looking on with other kids watching whatever their neighbor was watching. I wanted to be about to filter and monitor what they were consuming digitally.

Delay – letting them on social media

Kids who have a cell phone have texting and calling at their disposal. In the study I referenced earlier, the majority of the anxiety and depression seem to be linked to the use of social media. Kids need to be kids. Kids don’t need the anxiety of knowing they have been left out. Or be on the receiving end of comments on their Facebook or Insta that are hurtful. They don’t have the maturity to know that what they post is not private, and it survives forever even when they “delete” it from their wall. 

Filter using iPhone settings. 

Anything that requires a plug to a wall has a backdoor to the internet. Apple has made some excellent improvements to keep your kids safe. From the “Screen Time” section of your child’s phone, you can control who they talk to, set limits for apps, set downtimes when phone access and app access is limited. You can also share their settings to your phone. From your phone, you can then control the restrictions of your child’s phone from anywhere. 

Adding restrictions to an iPhone a brief guide

1. Click on settings
2. Click on Screen Time

3. Once in screen time, you will see options for each of the ways you can restrict your child’s phone.
1. Downtime – allows you to set bedtimes for your child’s apps and Phone access.
2. App Limits – will enable you to limit a particular app or family of apps like “games” to a set time of use. 3. Communication limits – limits who they can talk or text and when they can do so.
4. Always Allowed this allows certain apps to be accessible at all times.
5. Content & Privacy – This section limits adult sites, language thresholds, and as well as what level of movies you would like your kids to watch on their devices. It also allows you to keep them from making changes to the password of their phones. This means that they can’t remove your thumbprint of face recognition without putting a password you create.
For a more in-depth guide to iPhone parental controls click here.

Filter using My Circle

With My Circle, you can choose appropriate (or block inappropriate) content by age. Customize settings to filter for individual family members and then apply to social media, videos, and games for both apps and websites. You can also make the internet stop for every family member (or just one). Tap Pause when it’s time to get going on homework, or if someone hasn’t cleaned their room. Hit unpause when you’re good to go. Lastly, you can check out sites visited and filtered throughout the day. Or go back as far as you like. And even set a Filter directly from the History view.

Monitor – Your Kids’ phone manually.
Have access to their phones and check their text messages and other activities on their phones by looking through their phones randomly on a regular basis. This is not an invasion of privacy this is responsible parenting. If your kids object to this or give you any reason not to trust them with the phone you provide. TAKE THE PHONE AWAY.

Monitor – Your Kids’ phone automatically.
If you want to monitor your kids’ text messaging automatically you can use Bark.us. Or if you didn’t head my advice and you caved and let your kids get social media you MUST get Bark. Bark connects to 24 platforms to monitor text messages, emails, and social activity for signs of harmful interactions and content. Click here for an overview of what Bark monitors. You get automatic alerts via email and text when Bark’s algorithms detect potential risks, so you don’t have to comb through every post and text.

Bottom line: Parenting isn’t easy don’t give up because the digital problem is so overwhelming. Fight for your kids they need you now more than ever.