“The statistics are frightening.”
“Young people are leaving the church in droves.”
“The numbers are scary.”
“The church is dying”
If you are 1. A Christian, 2. Serving in ministry, 3. A parent, or 4. Any combination of all or one of these things…you’ve probably seen or heard these phrases. They catch our eyes. Our stomachs twist. Our hearts race a little. We can feel something. We call that thing…fear.
And, frankly, I’m tired of it.
Fear has this capability of magnifying itself so much that it blinds us to reality.
But isn’t that reality? Aren’t young people leaving the church? Aren’t the numbers showing a sharp decline in church attendance? Shouldn’t we be fearful?
If you read my blog at all, you know that, yes, I am well aware that for the past few years the number of people who identify themselves as “Unaffiliated” has increased while the number who identify with evangelical Christianity has decreased. And yes, I recognize that the consistency of church attendance has greatly affected the numbers that are recorded in church on a given Sunday. And yes, I am concerned about that, which is why I am so passionate about ministering to children through discipleship at home, intergenerational ministry at church, and times of corporate worship within the faith community.
But I am not afraid.
And I don’t think you should be either. And I don’t think that fear is ever the right motivation for us to address the issues that concern us.
Fear has its root in a place of mistrust and uncertainty. It finds footing in places that are shaky and unstable. Fear forces reactions and clouds our judgement.
There’s another way. A better way. A more perfect way.
Because according to the Bible, perfect love casts out fear. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (I Jn. 4:18).
What if when we heard the bad news, the scary numbers, the terrible situations that cause our hearts to race, instead of reacting in fear, we stopped and we looked for love.
What if we allowed our actions to be fueled by love? What would that look like?
I think it would look a lot more like relationships and not programming.
I think it would be a lot more hand-holding, shoulder-hugging, and knee-bowing than it would head-shaking, shoulder-shrugging, and knees-quaking.
I think love would say, “How can I help? What can I do? God, who can I love?” instead of “How can our worship style help? What can the pastors do? God, who can we hire?”
I was convicted of this fear vs. love thing most recently through this story of dear friends of mine, who tell it far better than me, so I’ll let their words reveal God’s love. For background purposes, these friends are seeking to adopt three girls, their nieces, and, as you will read, there was much room for fear, but then…perfect love took over.
These girls have experienced more heartache, more disappointment, and more pain than any seven, eight, and fourteen year old should ever know. And no matter how hard their parents tried, they simply could not provide the kids with a safe and stable living environment. These girls have suffered more heartache and pain at this young age than many people will face in a lifetime. As a result, they were removed from their home in May 2013. Although we all waited in hopeful expectation for their mom and dad to complete their case plans, change their lifestyles, and bring their beautiful children home, after three years they have yet to do so.
We came to realize the full depth of our longing to adopt these three beautiful girls one night in November 2014. Cody was standing in the kitchen making dinner when all of a sudden he held his face in his hands and began to weep. Through tears he said, “I just love them so much, Ash… and… I think God’s calling me to be their father.” What Cody didn’t know is that Ashley had been having a recurring dream for months on-end wherein the two of them welcomed these sweet girls into their family to have and to hold in covenantal relationship. In that moment, it was clear that God had been uniquely and individually preparing our hearts and minds for something extraordinary. He was calling us to truly consider adopting our nieces into our family to raise them as our very own daughters.
These sweet friends of mine still face a long journey before these girls will be with them, in their forever home, but what really struck me was this: Fear raised its head but love was greater. There are a lot of reasons why Cody and Ashley “shouldn’t” do this. Trust me, I’ve seen their struggle. There are a lot of fears. But they have chosen to magnify the love. Faced with scary numbers, a devastating situation, and terrible statistics, they chose to allow love, God’s love, to flood their hearts and they asked the questions: “How can I help? What can I do? God, who can I love?”
There are a lot of children in our churches and in our communities. A lot. And there are not enough children’s pastors or Sunday School teachers in the world to reach every one. But there is you. Don’t let fear motivate you to react; let love overwhelm you into action.
The numbers aren’t as scary as they appear. The Church is not dying. God is still moving, even among the Unaffiliated, even in those crazy Millennials, and most definitely among the children. Respond with love. Find a child (or two). Develop a relationship. Ask the questions.
Magnify LOVE! And drive out fear.
If you are interested in helping to support my friends Cody and Ashley Swoboda as God leads them in love to adopt their nieces, you can find more information here and join them in their journey.
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- Seminars, Workshops, Coaching
About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.