PAUL: Aaron, I know that in the past, like Ruth and me, you have been deeply involved in intentional community, and high-commitment residential expressions of church life. Are there other ways that your previous experiences in intentional community shape your current pastoral / church practice?
AARON: Woah. It’s crazy because what we are doing now looks completely different. But I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am without those experiences. Sort of cliche’ if you will, but truth. The things I value are different, which completely shifts the focus of what I pour my energy/time into. It’s simple really. Previously it was all about big, fancy, “cutting edge” ministry stuff that people would take notice of, write about in books, and do interviews on. Now, it’s much more low-key. It’s super relational. It’s life. In the season I’m in it’s focused on my family, and a few other families we are close with.
Our faith community looks different to anything we have done before. We’re almost a decade into this journey of “Organic Church” as some call it. We’ve started, helped start, been a part of, and trained many to start new churches. Of course, they have all looked different depending on the season of life we’re in. Right now, we’re in a very new season! We have three children under the age of five. That makes for a fun/interesting Kingdom life to say the least. We are no experts on the subject, but we couldn’t bear the thought of outsourcing the discipleship of our children to others, whether on “church day” or throughout the week. In our faith community there’s a culture established. Kids are not a distraction.
Many faith communities have that same aspiration, but continue to “manage around” their children. We are not interested in that. Now, we certainly can’t neglect mature, adult, deep, rich time together. However, we MUST make sure that the environment is such that the children are not only mere onlookers, but are engaged and are encouraged to participate in church life. Otherwise, this whole “Jesus thing” their parents do with the other adults is foreign until the one random day they are made to sit reverently with their parents in “big church”! So, we do some kid-focused stuff, and adult stuff. It’s natural. The kids don’t know any better, so they assume it’s all a part of “what we do” as a family & a church.
PAUL: Can you give us a snapshot of how you engage your children in your church’s gathered life?
AARON: Our kids have “family church quilts” which they lay on the floor. They know to stay on their quilts (which is a constant battle ; )
1) We start by being quiet, turning on some worship music and asking God to speak to us. To share something encouraging with us for someone else in the family. I share Hebrews 3:13 and remind them that when we speak life into one another it pushes out darkness and the ability for sin to take root. We spend maybe 60 seconds “listening” (this would be longer with older children and adults) We come together and each person shares (on a good day my 6 year old has something sweet to share, my 5 year shares something completely unrelated to encouraging someone else in the room, the 3 year old is busy pestering his sister, and the 1 year old is nursing) But again, every now and again one or more of them “get it” and share something super life giving.
2) we get quiet again, turn on worship music and ask God to reveal something in our hearts that doesn’t belong, maybe something that we want God to heal in us or help us with. We spend 60 seconds listening and then share. (This is usually Morgan and I modeling for the kids and then gently guiding them to hear and be open to God. Sometimes one of them shares a problem or a struggle and we pray for each other.)
3) I get out the Jesus Storybook Bible and flip to a story that somehow relates to something someone has shared.
We’ll close with some prayer or a Bethel kids worship video on YouTube or something. Every so often we’ll take communion together as a family which is often powerful.
That’s it. Three simple steps that have been super fruitful and shaping in the lives of not only the kids but my wife and me as well.
PAUL: Wow! I love what you are describing here. It’s a beautiful picture of close community – a cross-generational community doing what John Wesley called “Close Conversation”. We practised this too in Jesus Generation – except our band of GenYs hadn’t produced any kids at that point – just two little babies. So we didn’t quite get to the inter-generational experience that you now have going so beautifully. I guess that the pattern you have described really depends a) on the shared aspiration to disciple your children and b) on the intimacy that has grown in your web of community.
AARON: That’s right. These approaches flow from and come back to the root issue of the parents being the primary disciplers of their children. Then, having a tight knit community of others who play a role in that discipleship.
PAUL: What you’re describing – it sounds awesome – but it could sound like a heap of hard work for a young family – perhaps a bit daunting?
AARON: So many young families I meet and speak to on a regular basis look at me wide-eyed when I describe how simple and intentional our time together is! They often ask to join us, but I first encourage them to practice these three simple steps with their own family first…