Not long ago, I had the honor of speaking to the congregation of North Metro Church in Marietta, Georgia. This thriving, growing church is located near Atlanta, and is shepherded by Pastor Rob McDowell. There’s something special about North Metro, and I knew it three minutes into the first service. There was a unique energy in the room; a vibrant enthusiasm radiating from the congregation. North Metro is young at heart, and it’s obvious. They’re engaged in worship, attentive to the message, and ready to respond. They have a youthful energy, even though their age demographic isn’t particularly young (I met lots of folks my age and older). Most pastors would be delighted to have a church family such as this, and I can’t wait for an opportunity to return. Afterward, as I was sitting in the airport, I started to think about how North Metro has been able to form this passionate family. I recalled all the conversations Rob and I had prior to the event as we toured the church campus. North Metro “gets it” because folks my age continue to value the needs and priorities of young people ahead of their own desires and comforts. All of us learn to do something similar in the context of our families, and we ought to use this experience to rethink our mission as a Church.
As I look back at my life with Susie, I recognize there was a long season of dating while we were in high school and college. This continued even after we were married, until we had our first child. We then entered into a long season of parenting as we raised our four children. Now, as our nest is increasingly empty, we realize we are about to re-enter a season of dating. Awesome. We learned something through this wonderful life together. When you are in the season of parenting, you had better be ready to sacrifice your own selfish desires for the benefit of your kids. There are times when your kid’s needs and your wants are not perfectly aligned. If you’re a parent, you know what I mean. As a father, I was familiar with every G rated movie on the market. In fact, I could usually sing along with the songs, word for word. There was a season when anything above a G rating was a mystery to us as a couple. The choices we made when parenting were very different than the choices we would have made when dating. When we were parents, we did what was best for our kids and we delayed our own gratification. If we wanted to see something other than a G rated movie, we set aside a special time. These “date nights” were, however, in submission to our life as a family. We didn’t mind at all; in fact, we so loved our kids it was a pleasure to enjoy a movie together. That’s what you do when you’re a family. Your love for one another motivates you to prioritize and sacrifice. This is an excellent model for the church.
As a church family, we can learn a lot from our personal families, and it starts right here with this observation about our season of parenting. Do you have young people in your church? Has your church realized it’s in a perpetual season of parenting? Does your church prioritize young people like any good family with children? North Metro seems to understand this simple concept. They understand vibrant families are youth-centered families. This doesn’t mean we have to lower the content in our Sunday messages (you’d be amazed to discover how willing our young people are to raise the bar), but it does mean older folks like me will occasionally have to submit our personal preferences for the good of our young people. It means we’ll need to rethink our teaching approach and consider making our time together robust, interactive, relevant, personal and visual. Our large gatherings need to be prioritized around our young people.
Those of us who’ve been teaching students understand the importance of taking this approach, and maybe that’s why North Metro is blossoming; Pastor McDowell was a committed college pastor for most of his career and he still celebrates this priority related to young people. If we ever hope to address the growing challenges facing our students, we’re going to need to look to our personal families as a model. If you’re willing to sacrifice for the good of your kids at home, you ought to be willing to sacrifice for the good of your students at church.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.