If You Hate My Wife, We Can’t Be Friends

There is a statement that I have told my kids many times over the years. In fact, I have told them so much that they can both quote it. Here it is:

“This is my wife. I love you, but I love her more. She was my wife before you came around, and she will be my wife after you have grown up and moved on.”

I’m certainly not trying to tell my kids that I don’t love them. I always make sure, when I say this, that they know I love them. But, what I want them to know is that I love my wife. On this earth there is no person more important that my wife, for me. In fact, there is only one relationship more important that the relationship with my wife. That relationship is with Jesus.

I say all this to say, I LOVE MY WIFE. I’m not always good at showing it, and I probably don’t say it often enough. But, I love her. I love each of you reading this, but I love my wife more. If fact, I love my wife so much that if you don’t like her we simply can’t be friends. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that my relationship with her is that much more important than my friendship with you.

Frankly, my wife is such a part of me, of who I am, that if you don’t like her, you probably won’t like me either.

You can TRULY say you love me, if you don’t also love my wife.

The funny thing is that people do this exact same thing to Jesus. It’s common to hear people say, “I love Jesus. I just don’t like the church.” The Bible calls the church the Bride of Christ. So, this statement is telling me that you love me, but hate my wife. If you hate my wife, we simply can’t be friends. So, I struggle to believe that Jesus is ok with you saying that you hate HIS bride.

What kind of relationship would that be? Imagine for a minute that you and I tried to build a friendship. We hung out some, and had some come together. Then, you met my wife. Shortly after meeting her you start talking about everything that is wrong with her. You start posting to your social media about every bad habit that my wife might have. You talk about how ugly she is. Let me be completely clear.

Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. If you did this to my wife, not only could you not be my friend, but you are going to find yourself dealing with me. I’m a nice guy. I can put up with a lot. BUT, that’s my wife and I WILL fight for her. I WILL protect her. I WILL come after you if you attack her.

Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. I am generally a pretty kind person. In fact I try very hard to be. Sadly, some people have mistaken that kindness for weakness. Many have learned that my kindness does have a limit. When that limit is reached, I can become a worthy adversary. Before you condemn me for this, or warn me against such threats, consider this. The gentle shepherd who played soothing music for a troubled king is the same person who attacked a giant with nothing but a sling and a few stones. Then, he cut the giant’s head off. You may know this shepherd as David and the giant as Goliath.

The point is, I LOVE MY WIFE. Was imperfect I as I am, I love my wife. I am willing and eager to protect her, to stand up for her, even to fight for her. If I, with all my imperfections, would love my wife in this way, how much more would Jesus, in his perfection, love HIS Bride? The Bible says that Jesus’ Bride is the church.

If you hate the church… If you’re among those people that would say they love Jesus, but hate the church I would encourage you to consider what I have written here. The church is the Bride of Christ. As such, I struggle to see how you can honestly say that you love Jesus, but hate his bride. I know that the church is flawed. The unfortunate truth is that the church is filled with people. Anytime you have all those people, there are going to be problems. I don’t say this to excuse how many of them behave. I’ll get to them in a minute. But, I would encourage you to give the church a chance. If you try one local church and it’s not a good fit for you, try another, then another, then another.

There are many different churches. While I wouldn’t encourage you to search for a church based solely on your personal preferences, I would say that if one church is not a good fit for you, there are many others. Don’t give up on the bride of Jesus so easily. I have seen how ugly church can be. I’ve experienced it. One of my goals as I started a church was to work to make it a place where there was less of the ugly stuff that I have seen. Still, some of it will probably happen.

If you are a church member or leader… If you are part of a local church you MUST remember that you are the bride of Christ. You represent Jesus. Does the way you behave reflect how Jesus would have us behave? Does how you treat people, especially people who act, look, or think different than you reflect how Jesus treated people? Do the things you say on social media reflect Jesus? Does the way you behave in public reflect Jesus? Does how you act at work reflect Jesus? I think you get the idea. You are the bride of Christ. Maybe if we remember this and behaved as if we believed it, then fewer people would think it was ok to say they love Jesus, but hate the church.

Matt Norman

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This SH– is Awesome

Some may look at this title and say that’s just click bait. Just stick with me for a little bit, you’ll understand.

As you may know I spent a lot of years as a pastor to children. This mean planning events, programs, and worship services for kids. In all of these things something I felt was very important what FUN. No, fun was not the ultimate goal, but it was important. The ultimate goal was to reach kids and families with the Gospel of Jesus and help them grow in that relationship. Still, fun was important aspect. I wanted kids to WANT to come to church. I wanted them to want to bring their friends. I wanted kids dragging their parents into church each week. At the very least I wanted kids not to give their parents a hard time when it came time to get ready for church. I wanted this sh….. stuff to be awesome.

“This SH— is Awesome”: The title of this post is actually a quote. I can’t remember who told me about this, but it’s a true story that happened in a friend’s church. The person who told me this was a fellow children’s pastor. During a service or event of some sort, there was a new kid. We love to have new kids, but it can be really hard for that new kid. It can be a little difficult for us as well. We want the kid to feel welcomed, but sometimes we are so busy just making things happen that we don’t have time, or don’t think we do, to help this new kid feel welcome.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what sort of event this was. Maybe a worship service. Maybe a special event. I just don’t remember. What I do remember is that part way through the program things were going really well. Then, in the middle of everything that is a typical children’s worship service, or event, this new kids yells, “This sh— is awesome.” Clearly this new kids was enjoying himself. How often would a non-church person TRULY enjoy being in church? Sadly, it’s not that often. But, this kids was enjoying it.

Jesus hung out with lost people. The Bible makes it clear that people who do not know Jesus are lost. It also makes it clear that we ALL started out that way. Another thing that is clear, if you read the first four books of the New Testament, is that Jesus hung out with sinners. He attended a wedding where LOTS of drinking was taking place. Then, when the wine ran out, He turned water into wine. So, AFTER people were drunk, He gave them more wine.

In another instance, Jesus attended a big party at the house of a man named Levy, or Matthew, as most people know him. The good church people saw this and asked why Jesus would hang out with “people like that” or with “those people”.  When they asked Jesus’ disciples about this, Jesus answered, “It’s not the righteous that need a doctor, but the sick.” Jesus CHOSE to hang out with lost people because He knew that they needed Him. We should work to bring lost people into the presence of Jesus.

Stop expecting lost people to act “right” in church. A very wise man I once knew often said, “Lost people do lost things.” I remember the first time I heard him say that. It was like a slap in the face. So many “church people” expect people who do not have a relationship with Jesus to behave as if they did. These same “church people” also forget that when they were lost they acted the same way.

We need to learn to welcome lost people into our churches and stop expecting them to act like us. Heck, I’ve know some great “church people”, but I’ve known some that I would NOT want lost people to emulate.

This SHHH…. Stuff should be awesome. Go into some churches and you might think that they forgot that we were created in the image of the one who created everything beautiful. You’d think that they forgot that the one they claim to worship is the same one who created everything beautiful. Sure, some churches have beautiful buildings, but the things they do with it are not so. I’m not saying that we should plan our services or events in such a way that they appeal to lost people. Some churches have done that with success. If God has called you to do that, then do it. However, what I’m saying is that, regardless of our “style”, we should do everything we do as well as we possibly can.

I’m also not saying that we try to take the place of the Holy Spirit. Certainly it’s the job of the Holy Spirit to move people. But, we should be committed to doing all we do with excellence. A pastor I once served with defined excellence as “Doing the best you can with what you have.” It doesn’t mean copying the church down the road and wishing you had all the stuff they had. It means taking the things you DO have and using them to the best of your ability.

How we respond matters. I don’t know how the friend that told me that story responded to this kid. However, it matters how we respond. We often say that “all are welcome” or “come as you are”. When what we really mean is “all are welcome” so long as you act like us, or “come as you are” so long as you look or dress like us. We need to be open to people that act different, look different, and even think different than we do. Then we need to be very careful how we respond when they “don’t know how to behave in church.”

People will notice your side-glances. They will see how you look at them. They will notice the groups that talk with one another, but ignore them. And they will CERTAINLY notice how you respond to their “wrong behavior” or to their awkwardness. Let’s remember that for them this may be a new experience. Let’s remember that they may not know Jesus, and thus don’t have the Holy Spirit. Let’s remember that Jesus hung out with sinners. Let’s remember that it’s a good thing that Jesus did love sinners, cause we wouldn’t stand a chance without Him.

I hope my SHHH… Stuff is awesome.  Now that I have started a church and moved from the role of children’ pastor into that of senior pastor/church planter I hope that people think my church is awesome. We don’t have a fancy set up. We don’t put on a great “show”. We don’t have fancy lights, huge screens, or fog machines. I’m not saying that those things are bad, just that we don’t have them and we have to take care not to make such things the focus. Still, I hope that when people come to the church I pastor, I hope they leave thinking it’s awesome. It is my hope, and prayer, that they will feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and will be moved.

What are you doing to make your SHHH… stuff awesome for new people?

Matt Norman

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4 Tips For Helping Kids Serve in Kid’s Church… Adults too.

Last week I shared 5 Ways That Kids Can Serve in Kid’s Church. Having kids serve can be GREAT. However, we need to make sure that they are prepared, or it can be a source of great frustration for us and the child. So, here are 4 tips for helping kids serve in kid’s church, or church in general.

1.) Train them

Keep in mind that for most of your kids this will be their first time serving in church. You wouldn’t put any other person in any other environment to work doing something they had never done without proper training. Nor should we ask anyone to serve in church without training them first. Seek to answer these questions as you train them:

  • Who: Who will they be serving? Who will they be serving with? Who are they accountable to?
  • What: What are they supposed to be doing? What tools are available to them? What are your expectations of them?
  • When: When should they arrive? When are they to do whatever it is they are to do within the service? When are some other times that you would like them there for practices, etc?
  • Where:Where should they be before the service? Where should they be during the service? Where should they go went it’s time to do their thing? Where should they go when they are done doing their thing?
  • How: How do they do the thing you are asking them to do? How do they advance the slides in the presentation? How do they turn up the volume on that one mic? How should they greet new kids?
  • Why: This may be the most important question you seek to help these kids answer. They may have a wide variety of reasons that they want to serve. Help them to see that while many of their reasons for serving are ok, their real reason for serving is for the benefit of others. We serve because Jesus served. We serve because Jesus died for us. We serve because we want to love our neighbors.

2.) Watch them 

This one may go without saying. As children’s ministry leaders we are constantly watching the kids in our care. However, this goes beyond this. When a child is serving you need to watch so that you can see how well they are doing. Celebrate them publicly when they do a good job. Offer gentle correction and instruction when needed. Remember the point is not simply to make a show of cute little children serving. Rather it is to actually help these kids grow through the experience. Some of my greatest times of growth have come through serving.

3.) Be patient

Remember that these are children. Certainly we want them to do a great job, but we must remember that they are children. Being children comes with a certain amount of silliness and a certain lack of focus at times. Keep in mind that for many kids this will be the first time that they have ever served in church. Most people wouldn’t be willing to give them the chance. Trust me, most of those kids want to do a good job, if for no other reason that to please you. So, be patient with them.

4.) Let them be bad at it

I remember early in my ministry there were certain things that I had a hard time letting other people do. Teaching was one of those things. You see, I had a certain way that I thought it should be done and I just knew that others would be able to do it my way. Well, the truth is that my way was just my way, not THE way. So, I started letting others teach. Were they as good as me their first time out? No, they were not. But, they learned and grew… just like I had. Let these kids be bad at the jobs you are giving them. Then, guide them and teach them till they are better at it. You may find that some of these kids are actually better at some of these things that some of the adults you might have serving with you.

Bottom line

At some point someone took a chance with you. They gave you the chance to do something you had never done before… and to be bad at it. Maybe they trained you, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they watched you and offered correction and instruction as needed. Maybe they were patient with you as you learned. If they didn’t do these things, then I bet you wish they had. Kid’s can be the church of today, if we let them… and help them.

These tips can also apply to the adults serving in your ministry. If you take these steps with the adults serving in your ministry you may find that they stay longer and that you others are more likely to come onboard.

Matt Norman

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5 Tips For Dealing With Families When Abuse Is Suspected

Earlier this week I wrote about 5 Things to Consider When Abuse is Suspected. One of those considerations was how we handle the family of a child who we think may be suffering abuse or neglect. These cases are ALWAYS emotional. Our natural instinct is to protect the child and, often, to seek justice for that child. If abuse or neglect are happening, then justice is important. But, how should we, as a church, handle the family? Here are 3 tips for dealing with the family when abuse is suspected.

1.) Remember that things may not be as they appear. Anyone who has ever watched a movie about an abusive husband knows that the marks of abuse are often covered up with lies. You may find yourself wondering just how many times a woman can fall. This can be true in child abuse cases as well. For this reason, we are often suspicious when we see thing that don’t seem right. Maybe it’s a kid that seems to have more broken bones than is “normal”. Maybe it’s a bruise in a strange place. Maybe it’s an injury that  doesn’t seem to add up with the story that the child is telling. All of these can spark suspicions of abuse. However, things may not be as they appear.

Even the strangest thing could actually be completely innocent.

Be careful not to jump straight to calling the police or the abuse hotline. Certainly we should be prepared and willing to do that when it is necessary. But, we need to take a moment to pause. Ask the parents about the injury. I DIDN’T say interrogate the family. I said ASK. “Hey, I noticed little Johnny has this bruise. I just wanted to bring it to your attention and see if you knew where it came from.” Be careful how you ask this. Remember that the goal is truly to find out what happened, not to accuse the parents.

2.) Look for circumstances that you may not be aware of, but could help with. Whether what we are seeing is actually abuse, or not is really not ours to determine. Their are people with specific training and who get paid to determine that. However, there are some things we can do to help the family. Maybe this child needs glasses and the family can’t afford them. Maybe there are some safety issues at the house that the family is not aware of to can’t afford to fix. Maybe the family is facing stressors that are causing a normally loving parent to lash out or neglect their child. If abuse or neglect is suspected the number one priority is the safety of the child. Still, I think there is room for us to look into the situation and see where we might be able to help.

3.) Don’t forget that reconciliation is possible. Each state and county is going to have specific rules for how cases of abuse or neglect are handled. In some cases this may mean that the child is permanently removed from the household. However, that is not always the case. In many cases reconciliation is possible. While our first goal has to always be the safety of the child. I think a close second has to be caring of the family. Remember that we have all sinned. We all required reconciliation with God and we all received it. I know this is hard. Regardless of the circumstance, this family needs to know that Jesus loves and them and so does his church. I can’t imagine the difficulty of visiting a convicted child abuser in prison, but if they are part of your church someone probably needs to.

4.) Remember the family may not be guilty and the child is not the only victim. When abuse is discovered it can be easy to condemn the entire family, at least all the adults. “How could you allow such a thing to happen?” “Aren’t YOU responsible for the safety of your children?” Trust me if you are the parent of a child that is discovered to have suffered abuse at the hand of another loved one or a trusted adult, you are already asking yourself these questions and a million more. This is NOT what they need to receive from their church. Truth is, even if the child is being abuse, the family may not be guilty. Even if a family member is involved, it doesn’t mean that the entire family is. In any case, any family member that was not involved in the abuse, is also a victim of it. They may not be suffering directly from it, but they are now going to have to deal with the guilt and shame that come from such revelations. In any case, these families are going to be in desperate need of LOVE. It seems to me that love was is a pretty big deal in the Bible. In fact Jesus only gave three commandments and they ALL revolved around love. Show the family the Jesus’ church is a place of love.

5.) BE NICE! Above all else, and regardless of the fact of the case, be nice. Sadly, Christians tend to forget that we should be nice to one another. And this is not just for people within the church, but for people outside as well. Be nice. Yes, I’m suggesting that you even be nice to the accused abuser. No, I my heart does not feel as if they “deserve” it. Yes, I know how hard that can be. I also know that we none of us deserved the love of God. None of us deserved the sacrifice that God the Father made in sending Jesus to die for our sins. None of us deserved the sacrifice that Jesus willingly made in giving up his life for our sins. Truth is we are all just as guilty as the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. Our specific sins may be different, but we are still no less deserving of the punishment that God rained on those cities. Remembering this, be nice when you are dealing with all parties involved with suspected child abuse.

As I said in my post earlier this week on 5 Things to Consider When Abuse is Suspected, this is something we hope we never have to deal with. I sincerely pray that your church never has to deal with it. However, it is an unfortunate reality of our broken world and we need to be prepared for it. I hope this post helps you do that.

Matt Norman

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5 Things To Consider When Abuse is Suspected

This is one of those things that you simply don’t want to think about. In a perfect world every person charged with taken care of children would do a great job. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. Perhaps the most difficult part is that most instances of child abuse or neglect come from family members. The people who should be the most loving and protecting are actually the most likely to be guilty of abuse or neglect.

We all hope that we never have to do deal with this. As a long time ER nurse and children’s pastor I can tell you that I’ve seen it and it is always difficult. In those moments, when abuse or neglect are suspected, we need to be ready and willing to take action. But, we need to take the correct action. We need to have a plan in place with clear action steps and clear responsibilities for specific people.

Here are 5 things to consider when abuse or neglect is suspected:

1.) Mandatory Reporters? As an ER nurse I was a mandatory reporter. This meant that if I suspected chid abuse or neglect, I was required to report it. Clergy are usually considered mandatory reporters as well. However, is the person volunteering in a local church considered a mandatory reporter? In some cases they may be, but in others they will not be. In the churches I served, the staff/pastors were mandatory reporters, but the volunteers were not. You need to find out what the requirements are where you serve.

So, how can you find this out? One way is to call your local law enforcement office. They will have resources that can help you determine exactly what the requirements are. If not, then call the local office of your states child protection agency. These agencies are called something different in each state, but every state has one. They can certainly tell you who is required to report and who is not.

2.) Handling the Child. When I worked in the ER I, unfortunately, saw a few cases of sexual abuse in children. In these cases a child could only be questioned about the events a certain number of times. This was in an attempt to protect the child from having to mentally relive the event over and over again. This is the law in Florida, but you need to learn what the law is where you serve. This may not apply the same way to other forms of abuse or neglect. Again, you need to see what the law says where you serve.

Frankly, it is not our job to investigate the suspected incident. Our job is to identify it, report it and then support the child. Do what you can to make sure that the child is safe, and that the child knows they are safe. In doing so, don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk. If you suspect abuse, don’t be afraid to call law enforcement and let them help you keep the child safe, and deal with the family if necessary.

Your job is to support and protect the child. Do that and let the professionals do their job.

3.) Handling the family. Child abuse is one of those things that automatically causes an emotional response. From anger to sorrow to fear to compassion to a myriad of other emotions, when we hear stories of a child being mistreated nearly every one of us is moved. Our instincts may lead us to lash out or even to seek justice against the family. Even in this most difficult situation we can not forget GRACE. I know that is easier said than done, but it still needs to be done. Later this week I’ll share a post with more thoughts on how to best handle the family in a situation like this.

4.) Communicating with the church. Communicating such an incident can be an extremely difficult thing to do. What do you say, what do you not say? What CAN you say? If the incident happened at the church, then the church has a right to know something. However, the details that are shared do not have to be very specific. Remember that you have a child and, perhaps even an entire family, to protect. How you chose to handle this can drastically effect the way that this family and any close to them view your church, other churches, and even Jesus Himself. Be careful what you share.

Also remember that the Bible makes it clear that gossip is sin.

Be intentional about what is shared with the church and be diligent to make sure that it is not gossip. It’s probably also a good idea to remind your team that gossip is sin and will not be tolerated.

5.) Training your team. We all hope that such an incident never happens in or around us. However, it is vital that all members of your team know how to deal with an incident like this if it does come up. After you’ve reached out to the agencies I mentioned above, you need to prepare some training for your people so that they know what to do. This could come in just about any form. What matters is that you give them the information they need to know now to respond when this happens.

I truly hope that no one reading this ever has to deal with child abuse or neglect. Still, it is much better to have a plan and never need it them to find yourself staring at child abuse and not being prepared. Consider these 5 things as you put together your plan for handling suspected child abuse or neglect.

Matt Norman

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