Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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Raising Kids as a Dad

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Recently a well-meaning individual in my church said to me, “I find it so amazing that you were taking care of your children yesterday and shared the sermon with us at church today. You work so hard.” This person was referencing seeing me the previous day with my kids while my wife was working. Like anyone else, I’ll take a compliment, thank you very much! But that comment lingered with me for days as I wondered why me being a dad deserved praise as some kind of exemplary act.

While the stereotypes about fathers often paint them as ignorant, absent, or downright abusive, God’s Word on the importance of the father is quite clear:

Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. Psalms 127:3-5

Children are a reward, and the man who is able to be called dad is truly blessed, says the psalmist. Yet society today refers to children as a burden and has taken away the expectation of men raising children to grant that responsibility exclusively to the mom. Or even worse, to the public school system. The role of a teacher is vital, but let’s be clear that it is not the job of a teacher to raise a child, that is for the parents.

If the expectations for fatherhood remain minimal we’ll never be able to call men up to something greater. In the process it is the future generations who suffer, as endless studies show the various negative effects absent dads have on their kids. Why not choose to expect the men around you to be active and engaged dads and then support them in that endeavor?

Being a dad is not my only role in life, though. As a pastor, I help lead a church, working on helping make disciples and bring about life transformation in the lives of congregants. I’ve often extended this calling beyond the walls of my church through various projects like writing, speaking, and podcasting.

The hardest adjustment I had after becoming a dad was balancing being a good husband, dad, and pastor. It seemed as if I was constantly failing at something to try succeeding at others.

I often feel the temptation to ignore my calling as a father to put all my eggs into my career basket. After all, that’s what pays the bills and that’s the message I receive from the world around me.

I’ve often told my wife that some of the parenting instincts come more naturally for her, and that I have to try a little harder to do the things that seem to just flow for her. Even if this is partially true, it does not exempt me from my God-given responsibility. I’m still responsible for raising my children, even if it feels like I’m less equipped to deal with some of the daily tasks of raising kids.

The past few weeks have been stretching for my family, as we’ve had to hospitalize both my children at separate times for a bad case of the stomach flu. In both cases I was in the middle of a workday and dropped everything to be present for them. I’m grateful to have a job that is often flexible enough for me to get away when needed, but I was reminded again of the tension of trying to be a faithful and present father while also maintaining aspirations within my vocation.

I’m not sure I’ll ever hit the target where I lead my church well, love my wife well, and care for my children well. But I do know it’s such a privilege to wake up each day, and with God’s help, try my best to do all 3.

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I’ve Missed You!

A few weeks ago a couple came to my church who I hadn’t seen in a few months. Normally I would just say “hi, great to see you!” but lately I’ve been going at these conversations differently. I said, “I haven’t seen you in a few months and have really missed you being here. It’s great to see you.” Instead of just walking by, they stopped to catch me up on their lives. Though I said nearly the same thing as what I’ve typically done, confronting the idea of them being gone opened the door to something beyond the usual greeting.

As a pastor, I’m often intimidated to talk to people about their church attendance. Part of it is a self-conscious worry that they’ll think I selfishly care more about church attendance than them as people, but another part is a worry that they’ll take it as me condemning them for their lack of church attendance. Of course, neither of those are true (at least you would hope not), but that’s why I avoid the conversation.

According to Barna research, one of the reasons people stop going to church is because they lack community within the congregation. Often this shows up when someone doesn’t come for a few weeks and no one says anything. If no one noticed for a few weeks, new habits can be established, and by the time someone actually reaches out they’ve already started to move on. Within the church, no one should have to show up to be noticed.

Normally when I tell them I’ve missed them at church this is immediately followed with the reasons why they’ve been gone. Vacation. Sickness. Work. I have no reason not to believe their reasons. But I like to remind people after they give their reasons that I wasn’t giving them a guilt trip by telling them they were missed, I just wanted them to know I care and that our church is better when they’re around.

Identity Issues

In this, I have identity issues that must be worked through, or I’ll navigate the conversation from a place of deficiency, ultimately becoming a manipulator. Because much of my ministry and leadership is done in public in front of others it’s quite easy to believe that people not showing up or lacking enthusiasm is a knock against my abilities. I can quickly move from success to failure on any given Sunday in my own mind. These identity issues come to bear in how I navigate conversations with those who seem to be distancing from the church.

If I find my value in how many people come to my church and appreciate my pastoral leadership when I tell people I miss them then I’m only trying to boost my own confidence. If I feel rejected when people don’t show up and respond by telling them I miss them I’m merely a sleazy recruiter hoping my statement will bring them back.

The situation is easy to manipulate, instead of actually caring.

No Perfect Path

I’ve learned there’s no easy way to go about telling a person you care that they were gone. Some will feel judged and condemned. Others will greatly appreciate it.

What must be decided is whether you’re more comfortable leaving things unsaid or choosing to state the obvious. Leaving things unsaid provides opportunity for the same pattern to continue with little acknowledge. Stating the obvious may not change the outcome, but it will provide clarity in the present.

As it relates to church there seems to be little to lose when saying “I’ve missed you” to someone who hasn’t been around much. As long as you can make the statement without judgment or manipulation, letting someone know they were missed assures them that people care and that they have value.

Whether you’re a leader at a church or not, we should all strive to notice when people aren’t around and let them know the church is better when they’re around.

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Transformed Through Practice

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25, emphasis mine).

man overlook b and wIn recent years I’ve been increasingly concerned that most churches are doing very little to help provide a Christ-centered foundation for the lives of their people. I grew up in a large, growth-oriented church, and I knew a lot about the importance of faith being relevant to society, but I’ve seen in the last decade that relevance rarely leads to transformation.

In fact, when relevance for Christian ministry becomes a primary goal I think we’re prone toward disillusionment because it’s impossible to ever be relevant enough. Relevance doesn’t provide the foundation for becoming Christ-like, and in fact, often impedes such a goal.

What we need in order to become more like Jesus is to embrace being in apprenticeship to him, seeking to follow him, allowing more of Him to come through in our lives. This starts with a movement of faith where we step out in belief in Jesus, but it is also a daily, moment by moment action and decision to follow him.

The point of discipleship is to become like your rabbi, Jesus. What we should be longing for is a transformation, a continual movement toward becoming more like our rabbi, our teacher, our example, our Savior, Jesus. Dallas Willard describes this transformation as spiritual formation, the overtaking of a human life by Jesus, saying:

“Spiritual formation in the Christian tradition is a process of increasingly being possessed and permeated by the character traits of Jesus as we walk in the easy yoke of discipleship with Jesus our teacher.”

The reality is we are all being transformed all the time. Who you are in 5 years will be significantly different from who you are today. The question is not whether you are being transformed but who or what you are being transformed into. Is it Jesus?

Pew Research recently released a religious study saying 70.6% of people in America claim they are Christians, but if American society does not look more like Christ, it’s clear we have a problem. Too many Christians are not intentionally putting ourselves in position to be transformed by Jesus.

We have bought into the idea of believing in Jesus but not really following him.

What we really believe about Jesus shines through by how we respond to his extravagant grace. Are you willing to give up your life for it?

We cannot live the Kingdom of God and leave our way of life untouched.

We must be willing to shift our daily habits to create space for Jesus to shape us into him through the ups and downs of life.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that it is those who put into practice his teaching that are wise. With this in mind, there’s one question to ask:

How have you put your faith into practice?

If you’re near Salem, Oregon, come join me at New Harvest Church for our summer series titled Practices For the Way. 

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The Goal of a Wedding

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I officiated over a small, private wedding ceremony recently, and will be attending several other wedding ceremonies in the coming months. While weddings are a significant spiritual event, fewer weddings are taking place inside a church sanctuary. Certainly, God’s presence can unite two to become one in any place, but I often worry that making weddings more about the spectacle causes us to miss what the goal of a wedding is.

With wedding season ramping up, I’ve had some time to reflect on what the goal of a wedding is, or at least in my estimation, should be. I share this with other pastors as a word of advice. I share this with engaged couples as a source of recommendation when deciding on what matters most in their wedding ceremony. I share this with family and friends attending weddings to highlight things that might be easily overlooked in the formality of such a wonderful event.

A Reflection of the Couple

Many ceremonies are similar in that there are several sections, such as the statement of intent, the marriage vows, and the exchange of rings, which have a familiar wording and flow to them. However, from small things such as the choosing of a venue or the invitation list, to bigger things, such as the wording of the marriage vows or whether to do a symbolic activity representing two becoming one, each of these give the couple a chance to show who they are.

As a pastor this means encouraging each couple to consider what Scripture passages hold significance to the couple, it also means getting to know the couple so the words you have to share with them are specifically for them. For couples getting married, make sure you choose a wedding that fits you, not the expectations others have.

A Focus on God’s Word

A good wedding ceremony includes a variety of Scripture, not just a token Scripture thrown in by the pastor. I often encourage couples to have a family member read a Scripture passage of significance to them, and I try to include one or two separate passages in my homily to the couple.

This focus on God’s Word goes beyond the importance of Scripture to the elevation of Christ as a person of significance in the coming together of husband and wife. Several years ago following a wedding ceremony I officiated over, I had a family member of the bride and groom say to me, “I’ve never heard the name Jesus said so many times at a wedding.” I’m not sure if he was frustrated or joyous, but I took it as a compliment. If a marriage is to succeed it will be to the credit of Christ at work.

A Reminder of What Marriage Actually Is

I know this might be a shock to some but the goal of a wedding ceremony is not exclusively surrounding the bride and groom. Though they are the main characters in the story being told at the ceremony, the announcement of their marriage points to an even greater reality of Christ longing to be one with His bride, the church. Paul speaks to this in Ephesians 5, when after describing the role of a husband and a wife he says, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32).

All that talk about husband and wife and marriage? Paul says it was really highlighting Christ and the church. A good wedding ceremony does this as well, pointing the bride and groom, and their family and friends, to recognize they have an example and foundation for how to love each other (as Christ loved the church) in marriage.

Weddings should be about more than centerpieces, gowns, and seating arrangements because they speak to the divine love God has for us all.

While all wedding ceremonies are different, the best wedding ceremonies present the personality of the couple, focus on God’s Word, and provide a reminder of what marriage actually is. These should be the goals of each bride and groom when discussing their wedding ceremony, and they should be the goals those surrounding the couple encourage them to pursue.

Whether you are officiating, getting married, or just attending the wedding of a dear friend, look out for the ways a wedding highlights these goals.

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The Best Quotes from A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman

friedman a failure of nerveAlthough it was written in the 1990s, Edwin Friedman’s book A Failure of Nerve fits as well today as it ever has. In the book, Friedman outlines what kind of leadership is necessary in the age of quick fixes and anxiety. How can you operate as a non-anxious presence in an anxious environment? That’s a question I think he answers quite overwhelmingly.

This is not a Christian book. Friedman was a rabbi and family therapist. It may not be written by a Christian but it is a helpful book, becoming even more helpful in the years since Friedman’s passing. Here’s a few of the best quotes from the book.

“It has been my impression that at any gathering, whether it be public or private, those who are quickest to inject words like sensitivity, empathy, consensus, trust, confidentiality, and togetherness into their arguments have perverted these humanitarian words into power tools to get others to adapt to them.”

“A major criterion for judging the anxiety level of any society is the loss of its capacity to be playful.”

“Children rarely succeed in rising above the maturity level of their parents, and this principle applies to all mentoring, healing, or administrative relationships.”

“It is the integrity of the leader that promotes the integrity or prevents the ‘disintegration’ of the system he or she is leading.”

“The ultimate irony of societal regression, however, is that eventually it co-opts the very institutions that train and support the leaders who could pull a society out of its devolution. It does this by concentrating their focus on data and technique rather than on emotional process and the leader’s own self.”

“What chronically anxious families are largely incapable of seeing is that trauma is often, and perhaps usually, less the result of the impacting agent than of the family’s own evolving emotional processes.”

“The critical issues in raising children have far less to do with proper technique than with the nature of the parents’ presence and the type of emotional processes they engender.”

“A focus on being empathetic toward others, rather than on being responsible for one’s own integrity, can actually lessen the odds for an organism’s survival by lowering the other’s pain thresholds, helping them to avoid challenge and compromising the mobilization of their ‘nerve.'”

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Called Out Episode 010: Barnabas Piper

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One of the prevailing attitudes of our day is cynicism. This form of cynicism shows itself as a state of negativity and questioning where we can never believe anything at face value, and then we do our best to keep everything at arm’s length, rather than embracing it. You see this in the constant talk about fake news, because if some news is fake none of it should be believed, or so we think. We see this in relationships, because if one relationship or friendship fell apart, then none of the future ones are worth trusting in.

In order to look at the subject of cynicism from various angles, I had a conversation with my cynical friend Barnabas Piper. Having known him for several years I knew he would self-describe as cynical (as I would), and be able to share not only how cynicism develops, but also how it wreaks havoc on those around it. Then, toward the end, we share some encouragements for helping you stay away from cynicism.

You can listen to the full episode below (click here email readers):

Or find the episode wherever you listen to podcasts, including:

Apple Podcasts || Soundcloud || Stitcher || Overcast

A few links mentioned in the episode:

—Barnabas Piper’s books The Pastor’s Kid and Help My Unbelief.

—The book mentioned in the episode by Barnabas is his latest release The Curious Christian.

—Barnabas also has a podcast he’s one of the hosts for, called The Happy Rant.

—Brett McCracken’s article on Hallmark movies: “Formulaic for a Reason: The Existential Appeal of Hallmark Movies”

—Theme music by Shoring.

We’ll be back with new episodes starting again in September. Between now and then you can support this podcast by leaving a review wherever you listen, and by sharing episodes you have found helpful. Thanks for your support!

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