I talked to God recently and told Him that I am weary of the challenges that church-planting presents. I reminded Him of what we have been through in the past year with relocating, raising support, gathering a core group, and trying to lead people when you have more questions than answers. So in case He forgot, I rehearsed the details. I’m not sure you are supposed to do that, but I did. I wanted relief. I wanted rest. I wanted calm. A few days later, my oldest son came to me and asked if he can tell me five reasons why he hates his school. I guess God was listening but not agreeing with my desires for a break. (Right: New friends)
Keep in mind that one of the decisions we made after much prayer and discussion was to put our school-age kids—Hudson, Champlin, and Paton—into a public school. That was a change for us. My wife and I are both Christian school graduates and have always put our kids in a private Christian school. We feel privileged to have had that opportunity and are grateful for the sacrifices our parents made to provide that for us. We planned on doing the same until God called us to church plant in the inner city. We initially opted for homeschooling for a year as it best fit our economic pinch and our travel schedule while we raised support. But it soon became obvious that we were not cut out for homeschooling.
This year we enrolled the boys in the public school three blocks down the street from the house we bought. It is not just any public school. By many standards, some would say that it is the worst school in our state. In Colorado, when a school rates “unsatisfactory” three years in a row, the school district is kicked out, and the State Board of Education steps in and runs the school. After that happened, this school continued to be rated low, and the State Board shut the school down on itself. It is the only school ever shut down by the State of Colorado for educational reasons.
This fall was the rebirth. Two failing schools in the area were shut down as well due to unsatisfactory performance, and the schools were combined into one. The state hired a stellar principle who handpicked her staff—and they need a sharp staff. Only 20 percent of the students read at grade level, and only 7 percent write at grade level. This school is where we decided to send our kids. Some may say that we made a huge mistake. I can understand why anyone would feel that way. While we believe that we made the choice God wanted us to make, we also fully realize that we could have messed up.
We have endeavored to pitch in to serve the school anyway possible. Tim Keller said, “You want a great church? Seek a great city. If you seek a great church, you won’t have a great church and you won’t have a great city. But, if you seek a great city, you’ll have a great church and a great city.” So we’re seeking a great city by simply loving our neighborhood school. Jen volunteers one afternoon a week, joined a parent organization, and launched a staff-appreciation breakfast. I am on the Collaborative School Council, and we just finished a campaign to make parents aware of their child’s reading level. We are endeavoring to serve where we can, but the needs are immense.
While we want to help the school, we’re more concerned about our children than about our school. We actually believe, though, that the school will help us as parents in one major area. Jen and I have always held to the belief that teaching our kids to love God and to love their neighbor was our highest educational goal, rather than to simply create geniuses. One thing this school has going for it is that it forces our kids to love kids who are different than they are. It’s a school where more than 95 percent of the students are Hispanic or African-American. That’s a bit different than home-school-via-hard-drive last year. Teachers in blue-jean jumpers seem far away. When I go to pick up my kids, parents walk up to me and say, “You must be Paton’s dad.” Really. How did you guess? Economically, they see diversity—thirteen families live in homeless shelters, and more than 80 percent are on free and reduced lunches. In regard to behavior, you can imagine the challenges. With the majority of families lacking two parents, the discipline structure can be difficult and teacher fatigue intense. As a result, what is tolerated in an inner-city school seems to be greater than what is tolerated at the white, suburban, middle-class schools. I knew we were called to a challenge, but how would my children handle it?
My oldest son, Hudson, is more prone to deep attitude funks than our other boys. My biggest fear in placing him into this environment was that if he faced challenges relationally, his attitude would take a downturn from which he would not recover. I would be pulling and dragging him to school while he wailed and dug his heels in. So you can imagine how I felt when he called me into his room and started to read off his list of disappointments with the school.
His complaints over the last three months included being called bad names by classmates, waiting too long in line for lunch, lacking friends, suffering short recesses (what kid doesn’t complain about this?), and experiencing a few kids who seem to have it out for him, including a fourth-grader supposedly “in a gang.” It was bad enough that he didn’t want to go to school. My greatest fear had become reality.
Without time to process my thoughts, I spat out a chat about reporting the kids who were troubling him, serving his classmates in the spirit of Christ, rolling with the punches, and sharing a few other platitudes. He actually took his notepad and wrote them down.
I had hopes that things would turn around, but they didn’t. Over the next two days, he was in the principal’s office twice. The first time, a kid had grabbed him inappropriately, and Hudson wasn’t to blame. The next day I received a call from him on the principal’s cell phone. He got in trouble for participating in a game of touch football that turned to tackle. I began to get more concerned, and I voiced my concerns to the One who knows. I pled with Him not to let the school situation fall apart. Everyone has his ceiling, and I felt like I was reaching mine. (Left: Our historic school building)
A couple of Friday nights ago, I came to the house late after doing our addiction recovery training. The house was dark, and I could tell the family had turned in for the night. When I walked in the door, Hudson came walking down the creaky steps with his blanket wrapped around him. I sat on the couch in the front room, and he snuggled up next to me. I could tell he had been thinking, and it was one of those tender moments you crave as a parent. With young kids, getting them to talk on a heart level takes work. But sometimes it’s not work but just a matter of timing. Strike while the iron is hot! But I was struggling for the right words to speak. What do you say when you know you are doing exactly what God wants you to do but see your children paying a price? How do you take away the pain?
The Spirit began talking to me. I mouthed the words. I began talking about what God had called us to in the last year, and I posed a question to him.
“Do you think God would call your mom and dad to plant a church in the city, but not call you, their son, to do the same?”
He was quiet. “No.”
I replied, “You know, Dad wasn’t all that excited about this whole city thing the first time God told him His plan.”
He looked up at me. “Really?”
“Yep, really. I didn’t like it at all. But gradually I began to understand what God wanted, and pretty soon I became quite excited about his call on my life. It’s a hard thing to minister here, Hudson, but the gospel empowers us to do hard things. God has called you to do a hard thing. Hudson, he has called you to the city.”
We talked and prayed, and somehow I felt that this talk hit home more than the action items I had dictated to him days before. I felt that we connected at the heart.
It is one thing to wrestle with God over your own discomfort because of His calling on your life. It is a far more difficult thing to wrestle with God over the pain it causes your children. I assured my son that though I wanted to alleviate his pain, God had sovereignly placed him there for his good and God’s ultimate glory.
The next day Hudson and I went to run an errand together. Out of nowhere, he asked, “Do you think God is calling Champlin and Paton to plant this church too?” I praised God immediately that something seemed to be hitting home. I assured him that planting a church was a family affair—and it has been.
Champlin asked both of his second-grade teachers if they “knew God.” One had just moved to Denver through the “Teach for America” program, a program designed to send the best teachers to the worst places to help eliminate educational inequity. She’s a world changer. Well, she faithfully attends our church and has joined our home small group. Over the last several weeks, she has brought several teachers to church with her. Champ’s other teacher opened up to us in parent-teacher conferences that she once went to church but no longer goes. Champ took our Grand Opening invitations to school, passed them out to his classmates, and recruited other classmates to help spread more of them around. Paton invited one of his classmates to the house recently, and I can see the new relationship taking root. Today, he told me about the many Kindergartners who say “heck” and “don’t know God.” He told all of them that his dad is a pastor, but he said only one kid in his class knows what a pastor is. Little missionaries often do more work than big missionaries can.
I am a thirty-five-year-old who was reared by two baby boomers. After World War II, the American Dream seemed to kick into high gear. Boomers capitalized on post-war opportunity and wealth. Suburbs were formed as safe havens from the evils of the city. The dream permeated everything from present concerns to future plans. To their credit, our parents wanted the best for us in regard to education, friendships, opportunities, and safety. However, while we heard the message bold and clear to build a successful life, they put us on a bus to summer camp. It was there that we heard passionate pleas to leave all and go serve God in less-than-ideal—perhaps even dangerous—places. Something was not making sense. The underlying parental ethic seemed to teach that good parenting meant sheltering your kids from discomfort and pain, but the Scriptures called us to come and die. I lived with this tension my whole life, and in a way, I still do. But now I’ve got four kids of my own.
I want to challenge my generation to take a different attitude toward their children than the boomer generation did. I’m afraid that we have learned to shelter our kids from all and any pain. We strive to give them the best educations, opportunities in sports, and plenty of entertainment. But what if God wants our kids to go through painful things? Are we quick to jump in at the first sign of discomfort, pushing against what could be God’s molding hand? Better yet, what intentionally uncomfortable positions have we put our children into for the sake of the kingdom of God? The gospel compels us to live for others, not for ourselves. Do you reach out to the poor? Do your kids embrace the Bible teaching that it is more blessed to give than to receive? What are your plans to make Christmas a time of transformation, turning the hearts of your family from receivers to radical givers? Do your kids have a ministry at their local church? If I fear anything for my kids, it is that they finish school with a strong education but with a passionless Christianity. (Right: Our son, Paton, in line to start his day in kindergarten)
I am not advocating one form of schooling over another in the traditional sense, but I am encouraging parents to look at other schools—the school of adversity and the school of ministry. Pray for opportunities for your children to undergo trials at tender ages so you can shepherd their hearts to see a big God who is greater than their hurts or hardships. Put your kids into ministry situations that demands more from them than you think they’re capable of. They can do much more than usher one Sunday per quarter and sit in a church service with their hands folded in their laps. Put them in charge of raising money for the homeless. Train them to run a food bank. Give them real problems to help solve. They are not the future church; they are the present church. Watch God work in them—and in you. Your prayer life will deepen. Your parenting will take on a new urgency. Your dependence on God will grow, and the glory of God will shine through the faith of our children. When God calls your children, let them come. And if He asks, let them come and die.
|Jason Janz, former SharperIron site publisher, is planting Providence Bible Church in downtown Denver. Formerly, he served as an assistant pastor at Red Rocks Baptist Church (Morrison, CO). He has a bachelor’s degree in Bible and is currently finishing a master’s degree in theology. He has been married to Jennifer for ten years, and they have four boys. His interests include pastoring, reading, and wrestling with his boys. He likes SI because of how it helps serve pastors and church leaders.|