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A Loving and Biblical Approach to Gender Identity

A Loving and Biblical Approach to Gender Identity

A seminary professor recently said to a couple of our pastors “We used to argue about what the two genders mean, but this upcoming generation is trying to decide if there are two genders or fifty-eight, or even more.” They were discussing Christ Community’s recent paper on exploring a biblical theology of male and female. That paper raises crucial questions many of us now face on a daily basis.

Like the professor, you might also be shocked about how our culture is shifting around gender identity. For many of you, these are not abstract theoretical discussions. Perhaps you experience profound distress as your internal sense of gender doesn’t seem to match your body’s biological sex. Perhaps your son Jon recently told you his name is now Jen and asks that you only use that name from now on, and you haven’t got a clue about what to do. Perhaps these are the experiences of people you deeply love and care for and you don’t know how to both love and stay tethered to biblical truth. Even as we preach about the importance of male and female and how marriage points to the mystery of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:21-33), these broader questions of gender identity may rush to the front of your mind. 

Whatever your story is, we desire to be a caring family who loves one another and builds our lives on biblical truth. Too often we place those things in opposition to one another. Our church affirms with our Lord Jesus and believers throughout history that “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’” (Mark 10:6; Genesis 1:27). There is a good design to our bodies being sexed, and a beautiful diversity of women and men contributing in genuinely complementary ways in the church, the family, and broader society. 

The goodness of this design does not reside, though, in cultural stereotypes. We also acknowledge that in our broken world, many people feel great discomfort when their internal sense of self doesn’t align with how culture expects people of their sex to behave. This is typically refered to as transgender identity or gender dysphoria. We want to love people with these experiences well, which means treating them with dignity, gentleness, and respect, as well as pointing them toward the goodness of being embodied, sexed creatures, as Scripture teaches.

We have created a list of ways to help us thoughtfully consider this topic, and to grow both in our capacity to love those navigating matters of gender identity, and to understand the biblical view of gender.

We do not necessarily agree with everything written or said, either in the linked resource itself or by the authors and speakers in their other publications. However, we do believe them to be helpful starting points for further conversation. The list is by no means exhaustive, but will help us begin a deeper interaction with the questions we are already wrestling with. 

 

Read 
 
Listen
  • Theology in the Raw Podcast #881 – “From Trans To Detrans: Daisy Chadra”

    It is important to listen to personal stories to keep this from becoming just another “issue” or opinion. In this podcast, Preston Sprinkle interviews Daisy, who formerly identified as transgender, and now reidentifies with her female biological sex. They discuss her story, the nature of gender dysphoria and social dysphoria, some of the gender ideology that she used to believe but no longer does, the role that the internet played in her journey and transition, and what advice she would give to parents of trans-identified kids. There are also many other interviews with people who struggle with gender identity on this podcast feed. 

 

  • Theology in the Raw Podcast #981 – “What Is Intersex?” Julie Zaagman And Dr. Sam Ashton.  

    Intersex people (umbrella term for a variety of medical conditions that cause someone to have physical/biological sex traits that differ from typical male or female characteristics in chromosomes, internal sex organs, and/or external genitalia) are often used in the gender identity discussions as justification for identifying as a different gender than one’s biological sex. In this podcast, Preston Sprinkle interviews Julie, who has an intersex condition, and Sam who completed a Ph.D. from Wheaton College on the topic of intersex. 

Attend 

However you interact with these resources, keep in mind that your pastors are here for you. If you or someone you love is wrestling alone with their gender identity, please reach out to one of us. Alongside the skilled Christian counselors in our network, we would be honored to walk this journey with you.

As we wrestle with these hard questions in our broken world, let’s not lose sight of praising God for how he created humans, men and women both, in his image to reflect his gracious rule in this world.

Psalm 8 (New Living Translation)

1 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

    Your glory is higher than the heavens.

2 You have taught children and infants

    to tell of your strength,

silencing your enemies

    and all who oppose you.

 

3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—

    the moon and the stars you set in place—

4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,

    human beings that you should care for them?

5 Yet you made them only a little lower than God

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

6 You gave them charge of everything you made,

    putting all things under their authority—

7 the flocks and the herds

    and all the wild animals,

8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,

    and everything that swims the ocean currents.

 

9 O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!

Thinking Slowly Together About Gender 

Thinking Slowly Together About Gender 

Confusion, frustration, and distress are but a sampling of emotions we may feel as we consider topics of sexuality in our cultural moment. However, it is not just the culture “out there” that is deeply troubling for many believers. Our own evangelical culture all too often exhibits unhealthy and unbiblical patterns in male and female relationships. A host of critiques of our evangelical culture have been published recently, including Jesus and John Wayne, The Making of Biblical Womanhood, Recovering from Biblical Womanhood, and The Great Sex Rescue, to name a few. In addition, the podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill has unmasked a particularly toxic church culture. And perhaps most disturbing in recent months has been the revelation of the extent to which the Southern Baptist Executive Committee mishandled and covered up sexual abuse. Is there hope for our culture? Is there hope for the evangelical church?

 

A Challenging Conversation

Addressing these questions is complex and requires difficult conversations. I am usually one who runs from confrontation and uncomfortable topics, so my first impulse is to throw up my hands, thinking it is futile to engage. However, gratefully, our local church is a place that invites challenging conversations and makes room for long, thoughtful engagement. To borrow a phrase from a recent book, we are invited to think slowly together. This past year, I have had the privilege of being a part of a “think slowly” group, a task force of five people from different campuses and different walks of life. We were invited to sit, study, pray, and write together about God’s design for male and female flourishing in our church. This little band of people met for many hours for the better part of nine months, leaning into this challenging conversation. We prayed, read widely, and worked through the vast sweep of Scripture. Entering  the conversation with open hearts, we made room to be corrected, surprised, and inspired by what we learned. The result is several papers that are posted on our website. We hope you will read them for a much more in-depth reflection. 

 

Flourishing Together 

So, how do men and women flourish together? Our team’s best understanding from Scripture is that we are designed to be in a complementary alliance as members of a family. Complementary means male and females are uniquely made so as to enhance one another. Genesis 1:27 clearly declares that male and female together bear God’s image. We are so similar: both embodied image-bearers of God. But we are also unique in our contribution and biological distinction. Alliance means we are designed to be in a relationship for the purpose of a common mission. Genesis 1:28 gives the male and female a mandate to rule over God’s earthly kingdom, as well as to multiply and fill the earth. Genesis 2:18, in response to the declaration that it was “not good for man to be alone,” describes God’s intention, “I will make a helper corresponding to him.” The word translated “helper” in this verse is the Hebrew word ezer. Too often this word has been conceived as “assistant” or subordinate. However, the word ezer is most often used to describe God himself as our help. Far from a mere assistant, the ezer is the essential one to come alongside, to enable the fulfillment of a given task. The ezer is what Talbot professor John McKinley describes as “the necessary ally,” emphasizing the joint mission for which male and female are created; to rule God’s earthly kingdom.

This beautiful relationship of complementary alliance was devastatingly fractured in Genesis 3, and God foretold that the consequences of sin would introduce male domination and female frustration into the relationship. This is the part that prompts the throwing up of the hands. However, as believers, we are redeemed to be reconciled—to God first, and then to one another as males and females in relationships of complementary alliance. Whether married or single, we are necessary allies on mission together as family members. We are neither identical nor interchangeable, and we are all necessary. 

Most profoundly of all, we find that God himself is pictured as the husband of his people in the Old Testament and Jesus as the Bridegroom to his church in the New Testament. The mystery of male and female is theological (pointing us to God) and eschatological (pointing us to our glorious future). Ultimately, we will live in the New Creation as a complementary alliance of brothers and sisters forever in the perfected family of God.

 

Living This Out

As a result of this conversation, the leadership structure at Christ Community has not changed, but our understanding and expression of God’s beautiful design for males and females in complementary alliance has blossomed. Our task force has been deeply humbled and grateful for the manner in which our elders and senior leadership have commissioned, engaged with, and endorsed this conversation.

After thinking slowly together with the task force and our leaders over the last year, I no longer feel like throwing up my hands in exasperation regarding the relationship of males and females in the church. Rather, I am prompted to lift my hands in worship of our Bridegroom, the Lamb of God. Praise to the Father for his good and gracious inclusion of all his children in his plan. May we be found faithful to increasingly live into his marvelous design.

 

Read the resulting papers created by this task force:

1) Exploring God’s Design for Male and Female Flourishing In the Church A Biblical Theology of Male and Female

2) Male and Female in the Church Structure and Polity

 

 

 

Note about the task force:

This team experienced the joy of functioning in a true complementary alliance on this project:

Ben Beasley, former Associate Pastor, Downtown Campus, MDiv, pursuing ThM at Princeton Theological Seminary

Nikki Dieker, Associate Pastor, Olathe Campus

Bill Gorman, Campus Pastor, Brookside Campus, MDiv

Melody McSparran, Bible Teacher, Trinity International University Board of Regents Member, Congregant, Leawood Campus

Kelli Sallman, ThM, Writer and Editor, Congregant, Leawood Campus

We the Fallen People Includes You and Me

We the Fallen People Includes You and Me

I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Humanity.

I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought humankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government.

The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true…I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation….

The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Humankind is so fallen that no one can be trusted with unchecked power over his or her fellows.

“Equality” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses* by C.S. Lewis

 

Political Partisanship

If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you are frustrated and perplexed by the political partisanship that only seems to increase with each passing election cycle. Whether it be disagreements over abortion, inflation, student loan forgiveness, public school curriculum, or anything else, thoughtful and charitable debate is hard to find. In spite of these divisions, there is one thing almost all politicians, pundits, and activists agree on: “most Americans want what is right and good, and they agree with me.” Both sides of our political discourse will creatively redefine what “most Americans” means to make this statement true. You would be hard pressed to find a public persona who asserts “Most Americans disagree with me on this, but they are profoundly mistaken.” In our contemporary political culture, the voice of the people is considered the voice of God. 

 

Sin and American Democracy

I recently had the pleasure of reading We the Fallen People: The Founders and Future of American Democracy by Robert Tracy McKenzie, Professor of History at Wheaton College. In this deeply thought-provoking book, McKenzie explores the relationship between the Christian doctrine of sin and American democracy. He argues that the founders, who were by no means perfect, had a robust view of the brokenness of human nature that coheres with the biblical view. They designed our constitution with that view of human nature in mind and created built-in checks and balances to guard against the tyranny of the majority. However, within a generation, this view of fallen humanity fell out of favor with the function of American politics. The will of “We, the People” gained the moral high ground simply because it reflects the majority of people who consider themselves essentially good. 

Biblically, this is not true. Humans were created good but were broken and tainted by sin when Adam and Eve fell. God sees “that every intention of the thoughts of (humanity’s) heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). The prophet Jeremiah locates this corruption deep within the human heart as it “is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). The apostle Paul, summarizing and combining much of the Old Testament, concludes that “none is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). Even Jesus himself declares “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).

 

Fallen Image-Bearers

Now this does not mean every human being is as wicked and evil as they could possibly be. Each human still bears God’s image even after The Fall (Genesis 9:6), and God’s goodness and common grace prevents humans from being absolutely evil. Also, Christians are not completely exempt from brokenness and sin from the moment of their conversion. Though sin is defeated when Christ redeems us and gives us the Holy Spirit, sinful desires and inclinations still remain within us. This is why Paul commands believers not to allow sin to reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12). Moreover, the reality and depth of human sinfulness should lead even saved Christians to maintain a posture of humility toward others because we are all broken (Ephesians 2:1-9). Gospel-centered Christians can’t divide the world neatly into “good guys” and “bad guys.” Instead, we confess we are all the “bad guys”, and our only hope of being made new is the one Good Guy who died in our place.

Does our broader political engagement and faith in democracy embody this view? McKenzie says no and details major events in Andrew Jackson’s presidency that are emblematic of the opposite shift that still persist today. Notably, Native Americans were removed from the southeast portion of the United States during the “Trail of Tears” in order to distribute more farmland to white settlers. Though there was dissent to this egregious violation of justice and disregard for ratified treaties, such opposition was labeled as ‘elitist’ and wrong because it went against the “populist” will of the people. Jackson would say “the great mass of the people cannot be corrupted” in defense of these policies. This perspective prevails in the present day with our democracy functioning as though humans are individually good and collectively wise.

What should faithful Christians consider in our democratic process in light of this? 

 

Bearing Witness to God’s Kingdom

McKenzie does not argue that returning to the founders’ style of democracy, where only white, property-owning males could vote, would solve our problems. A tyranny of the minority is no better since all are affected by The Fall. He does point to the C.S. Lewis quote noted above and claims our motivation for pursuing democracy must reckon with the reality of human depravity. We should be cautious of assuming a certain perspective or policy is right merely because “the majority” believes it to be so. We should take care to protect the rights of minorities, practice restraint when our preferred “team” is in power, and advocate for principles of justice to be followed, even if they are unpopular. This is because victory for Christian values over our culture should not be the church’s goal, but rather to be faithfully present in the midst of culture to bear witness to God’s kingdom, no matter if the majority accepts or opposes our view.

Our engagement in politics ought to flow out of our virtue formation. One of the most commonly repeated quotes during election season is “America is great because she is good.” McKenzie explains how this is falsely attributed to Alexis de Toqueville, a French author who wrote about American democracy when visiting Jacksonian America. De Toqueville’s actual perspective was the opposite. He said “I cannot regard you (Americans) as a virtuous people.” He recognized a profound individualism in American culture that is antithetical to virtue, in that true virtue seeks the good of the whole at the expense of one’s self. A democracy that elevates the will of the majority, when there are not sufficient structures in that culture to instill the character of self-sacrifice for the betterment of others, will inevitably lead to tyranny and oppression.

Where Is Our Dependence?

As we enter into another contentious election season, let’s keep this in mind. American Christians have been given an immense privilege to have a voice in how our government is run. Engaging politically is potentially one of the most powerful ways to love our neighbors, while simultaneously also being an avenue that can bring immense pain and suffering to them. Let’s use that privilege virtuously to serve others. Let’s engage those we disagree with in a posture of humility. Let’s ask God for guidance and wisdom because we are dependent on him. Let’s interrogate our own political ideals as much as we question the “other side”, knowing that “We the Fallen People” includes ourselves.

Further Reading

McKenzie, Robert Tracy. We the Fallen People : the Founders and the Future of American Democracy. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021.

Lewis, C. S. “Equality” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. First HarperCollins edition 2001 [revised]. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

*Lewis’ quote has been adjusted to reflect contemporary norms for gender-inclusive language for human beings.

One New Family?

One New Family?

I have been blessed with an incredible family. Even in my extended family, as weird as we sometimes are and with all of our faults, I am so deeply grateful. Yet I know that is not everyone’s experience. Some of us come from deeply fractured families or find ourselves in very disappointing or difficult situations, and we have that insatiable craving for more. 

One of the most beautiful things about “the mystery of Christ” referred to in Ephesians, is that because of the gospel we are given a whole new family. God is our Father. Jesus is our Brother. The Holy Spirit is our ever present Comforter. And we even have this with one another! We are surrounded by spiritual mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and even sons and daughters. We are given a new family!

But sometimes that family is also really messy. As we walk through a study in Ephesians, we will continue to come upon that phrase “the mystery of Christ.” In chapter 3 Paul makes it clear what this is referring to: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6). The Jewish Messiah, Jesus, died for all the nations of the earth to make them a singularly united, at-peace family in him (see Isaiah 2:2-4 and 25:6-9). 

Think about this for a moment. Jesus the Messiah is ethnically a Middle Eastern Jew, but he is not the savior of Jewish people only. He is the savior of the whole world, Gentiles included, and thus all peoples of all ethnic backgrounds who follow Christ are already included in the “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) by faith in him. This is certainly good news, especially since the vast majority of you who are reading this are Gentile believers in Jesus the Jewish Messiah. In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul elucidates this “one new man” (or family) component of the gospel message.

This talk of inclusion and different ethnic backgrounds raises some questions in our current cultural climate. How are we to think about ethnic inclusion in the church today? More specifically, what does this mean for this church, here in Kansas City? We hear a lot of talk about “diversity,” “inclusion,” “racism,” “social justice,” and the like. At the very least all this talk highlights a need for informed, thoughtful conversation as we seek to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). How do we live into this reality that we are truly family with one another?

There is much that could and should be said about these matters, far beyond the scope of what is possible here. We will circle back to this conversation in a variety of spaces in the future, but for now we encourage engagement with several resources to help us think soberly, widely, and biblically about these topics.

We do not necessarily agree with everything written or said, either in the linked resource itself or by the authors and speakers in their other publications. However, we do believe them to be helpful starting points for further conversation. They are by no means exhaustive, but they will help us begin a deeper interaction with the questions we are already wrestling with. 

Read 
Listen
Watch

However you interact with these resources, the most vital response is to pray. This is the essential first step, and an essential practice to carry through every step thereafter. One significant way to pray in the midst of this conversation is through lament, which is prayer crying out to God on behalf of the injustice we see in the world. 

So let us lament. And let us be led in lament by God himself in his Word spoken through David  in Psalm 55, which is fulfilled in Christ crucified and risen for all peoples to become one in him. Let us pray this lament in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who bear the brunt of injustice in this country and around the world:

 

Psalm 55

1   Give ear to my prayer, O God,

and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!

2 Attend to me, and answer me;

I am restless in my complaint and I moan,

3 because of the noise of the enemy,

because of the oppression of the wicked.

For they drop trouble upon me,

and in anger they bear a grudge against me.

 

4   My heart is in anguish within me;

the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

5 Fear and trembling come upon me,

and horror overwhelms me.

6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest;

7 yes, I would wander far away;

I would lodge in the wilderness; 

8 I would hurry to find a shelter

from the raging wind and tempest.”

 

9   Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;

for I see violence and strife in the city.

10 Day and night they go around it

on its walls,

and iniquity and trouble are within it;

11 ruin is in its midst;

oppression and fraud

do not depart from its marketplace.

 

12   For it is not an enemy who taunts me—

then I could bear it;

it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—

then I could hide from him.

13 But it is you, a man, my equal,

my companion, my familiar friend.

14 We used to take sweet counsel together;

within God’s house we walked in the throng.

15 Let death steal over them;

let them go down to Sheol alive;

for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.

 

16   But I call to God,

and the LORD will save me.

17 Evening and morning and at noon

I utter my complaint and moan,

and he hears my voice.

18 He redeems my soul in safety

from the battle that I wage,

for many are arrayed against me.

19 God will give ear and humble them,

he who is enthroned from of old, 

because they do not change

and do not fear God.

 

20   My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;

he violated his covenant.

21 His speech was smooth as butter,

yet war was in his heart;

his words were softer than oil,

yet they were drawn swords.

 

22   Cast your burden on the LORD,

and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

the righteous to be moved.

 

23   But you, O God, will cast them down

into the pit of destruction;

men of blood and treachery

shall not live out half their days.

But I will trust in you.

 

Are We Building the Altar?

Are We Building the Altar?

In 1 Kings 18 we find one of the most dramatic Old Testament accounts. Elijah, the prophet of the one true God of Israel, challenges the prophets of the Canaanite god, Baal, to a contest to demonstrate whose God is real. 

 

The terms of the contest were simple. The prophets of Baal and Elijah would each prepare an altar and each would sacrifice a bull on the altar. But neither would set a fire on the altar. Instead, each would call on the name of their god and whichever god answered with fire, that god was the true God.

 

Tim Keller in his recent article “The Decline and Renewal of the American Church: Part 3 — The Path to Renewal” points out that many Christians have seen this Old Testament account as a helpful metaphor for how God brings about renewal in the church. Keller defines a revival or renewal this way: “Revivals are periods of great spiritual awakening and growth. In revivals, ‘sleepy’ and lukewarm Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and many skeptical non-believers are drawn to faith.”

 

Only God can bring the “fire of renewal.” Human technique and effort alone cannot produce renewal. Nor can the church compel or manipulate the means or timing of God’s work. However, this does not mean there is nothing we can do as we long for a fresh work of God in our lives, churches, and culture. We can build the altar. As noted by Keller,  “Christians looking for revival, they are ‘building the altar,’ praying that God will use their efforts to bring a fire of renewal with a movement of his Spirit.” 

 

In the first two installments of his four-part series of articles, Keller gives an account of the decline of both mainline and evangelical Christianity. Both articles are lengthy and nuanced and well worth careful reading. Keller’s point in both articles is summed up this way: 

 

Virtually everyone agrees that something is radically wrong with the church. Inside, there is more polarization and conflict than ever, with all factions agreeing (for different reasons) that the church is in deep trouble. Outside the church, journalists, sociologists, and all other observers either bemoan or celebrate the church’s decline numerically, institutionally, and in influence.

 

While the church is always in need of reforming and refining, it seems like this moment in American Christianity is in need of something more than refining. This seems to be a moment when something like renewal or revival is needed.

 

Over 30 years ago Christ Community was founded with the longing and prayer that this local church would be a catalyst for spiritual renewal in Kansas City. That longing and prayer still endures today.  

 

How can Christ Community build the altar?

Keller suggests three altar-building practices. 

 

Recovery of the gospel

It is all too easy for pastors and congregation members alike to functionally forget the radical good news of grace. This is the news that in Jesus we are completely known and loved — not because of anything we have done — but because of what Jesus has done for us. 

 

Theologian Kelly Kapic in his wonderful book You’re Only Human invites his readers to consider two questions. First, do you believe God loves you? He suggests that most Christians would say of course, God loves me. But then he poses a second question: does God like you? How would you respond? He writes: 

 

Have you ever felt that your parents or spouse or your God loved you, and yet wondered if they actually liked you? Love is so loaded with obligations and duty that it often loses all emotive force, all sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Like can remind us of an aspect of God’s love we can all too easily forget. Forgetting God’s delight and joy in us stunts our ability to enjoy God’s love. Forgiveness, as beautiful and crucial as it is, is not enough unless it is understood to come from love and lead back to love. Unless we understand the gospel in terms of God’s fierce delight in us — not merely a wiping away of prior offenses. Unless we understand God’s battle for us as a dramatic, personal rescue and not merely a cold forensic process, we have ignored most of the Scriptures as well as the needs of the human condition.

 

It is this understanding of gospel love and grace that is the keystone in the rebuilding of the altar.

 

Corporate prayer

The second altar-building practice is corporate prayer. While private individual prayer is vital, a quick survey of the history of renewal moments shows a common thread: Christians gathering together to pray for God to work and move.

 

As we seek the renewal of our churches and communities, prayer is critical. And not just corporate prayer within Christ Community but with other like-minded Christians and churches, especially across racial and socio-economic dividing lines. 

 

Creativity

Finally, altar-building is marked by creativity. No two renewal moments have looked exactly the same. Building the altar isn’t a matter of simply trying to reproduce the methods from previous moments. It is about looking for fresh insights into this particular moment, discerning how the Spirit is working. A fantastic resource for understanding this cultural moment and sparking creativity is Mark Sayers book Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture. Get a copy and read it with a group of other believers.

 

Conclusion

In the story of 1 Kings 18, not only does Elijah build the altar but he saturates it with water. The more soaked the altar is, the more dramatic the demonstration of God’s work and word. As we approach deeply contentious election seasons in 2022 and 2024, and face violence, war, and economic challenges in our nation and world, it is obvious; no mere human can light the fire. 

 

But we trust the resurrected King Jesus who, when He had ascended to the right hand of His Father in Heaven, sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in Acts 2 appeared as flames of fire above the heads of those gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

This is my prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray, we ask, we plead: do it again! For your glory and our good, make yourself known to us, renew us, heal us. Make us faithful to build the altar. We trust you and your timing for the fire. Amen.

What Harvard Discovered About Kids and Church

What Harvard Discovered About Kids and Church

Getting kids to church can be a challenge — at any age. When they are infants it’s because it just takes so much work to pack them up. Kids at that age require so much gear! Later as toddlers, separation anxiety can make dropping them off at the Children’s Ministries area challenging to say the least. With elementary-age kids, sports and other activities can easily compete with and crowd out opportunities for kids to participate in church events. Then as pre-teens and teens, a normal and healthy burgeoning sense of autonomy can be challenging to parental suggestions or expectations for church involvement. 

So as a parent — at any stage — the question on any given weekend can understandably be Is it worth the effort and energy to help get my kids to church this week? 

Now I am a pastor so I know you’re probably not going to be shocked if I say, Yes! It’s worth it. (It feels a little like asking a personal trainer if working out is worth it. Of course they are going to say yes.) So I’m going to let someone else answer the question. 

Recently, Christianity Today magazine published a summary of findings about children’s health from researchers at Harvard’s (yes, that Harvard) T. H. Chan School of Public Health (i.e. not pastors). 

The researchers led by Tyler VanderWeele “…examined a large swath of data, collected over more than a decade, which tracked the development of 12,000 nurses’ children into their young adulthood. The longitudinal study surveyed social, physical, and mental health trends across the group—like substance abuse, anxiety/depression, community engagement, and sexual activity.”

The team was curious about how schooling choices and religious service attendance correlated to health outcomes. Here’s what they found:

In comparing key health indicators, the researchers found little difference between the long-term well-being of adolescents who attended public school and those who went to private school. (All of the kids who participated were between the ages of 9-14 when the study began.)  

So parents you can breathe a little sigh of relief there. But what about religious service attendance? How much does that matter? 

“What we found was that religious service attendance makes a bigger difference than religious schooling,” [VanderWeele] said. “Religious service attendance has beneficial effects across the different school types and has stronger effects than religious schooling.”

 

In other words, the kids who grew up attending church regularly rated far higher in overall well-being as young adults than those who went to a religious school but did not go to religious services during their formative years.

Did you catch that? If you take two kids — one who attends church once a week regularly and another who goes to a religious school five days a week but attends church only sporadically — it is the regular church attendee who fares better. The researchers concluded that “…religious service attendance in youth was clearly the more dominant force in shaping health and well-being, at least as this pertains to the data and experiences 20 years ago.” 

Here’s the bottom line from the Christianity Today summary: 

Furthermore, “regular service attendance helps shield children from the ‘big three’ dangers of adolescence: depression, substance abuse, and premature sexual activity,” VanderWeele writes in his latest article for Christianity Today. “People who attended church as children are also more likely to grow up happy, to be forgiving, to have a sense of mission and purpose, and to volunteer.”

 

“So regardless of school type,” VanderWeele says, “it’s beneficial to go to religious services, both as an adolescent and as an adult.”

These findings highlight the beauty and wisdom of God’s design for the local church. When parents dedicate their children at Christ Community, one of the questions they are asked is: Do you promise, before God and this congregation, that you will be faithful in worship, both in the home and in the church?

Those two spaces —the home and church — are vital to human health and flourishing. This is why Christ Community’s Children’s Ministries and Student Ministries staff and volunteers put so much effort into equipping parents. Parents play an outsized role in their children’s faith development. However, what the Harvard analysis shows  is clear. It isn’t enough to simply be faithful in worship at home if we want our children to truly flourish. It also requires being faithful in a worshiping community; a local church.