Published in Connections Magazine (May/June 2015)
faith and family
by Marcus J. Carlson
When I think about the focus of this issue of Connections, I am struck by many things. The notion of working together, or in theological terms ecumenism, is essential to the life of the church and a cornerstone of Christian faith. True, healthy, Biblical community is impossible without working together—not just different churches, but every part of the community. The truth is our world has become increasingly divided. Sadly, the church is not an exception. Our focus as a culture is on what divides us rather than what unites us. This is one of the primary reasons we see so much hatred, dysfunction and fear throughout our culture today.
The truth is that we as the church of Jesus Christ are called to be different. We are called to lead. The best leadership is not achieved through force, but rather through service. Ecumenism is very important. It must go beyond the church —beyond individual churches and denominations. Working together as communities in today’s world is essential. We as the church need to lead through service in re-thinking ecu- menism, working together and building community.
Our children and adolescents have been dramatically im- pacted by the shift away from collaboration and community. Adolescence has extended, is more complicated, danger- ous, resourced and lonely than ever before in the history of North America. One of the biggest factors creating this dynamic is the reduction in the number of healthy, invested adults in the lives of our children and adolescents.
In fact, most of the systems and organizations that exist to care for, support, benefit and improve the lives of our chil- dren and adolescents have become about something other than what is best for our children and adolescents. This is the most pressured and privileged generation in the history of the world, and ironically they are also the most lonely. We do not have another generation to get our act together. If the church will not rise up to support, care for and fight for what is best for our children and adolescents, who will? In a world with greater resources, pressures and dangers, our children and youth need at least five healthy, authen- tic adults investing in their lives. This is in addition to parents, who regardless of their performance can never be replaced—parents always have and will be the most significant influence in a child’s life. Currently, more than 50% of children born to mothers under the age of 30 in the United States are born into a single parent situation. This means that having two, healthy, invested parents has become a statistical luxury. While the situation may be discouraging, the great news is that the answer is simple: partner to invest in the lives of our children and adolescents.
To say that I am passionate about this is an understatement. It was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. I speak, teach and lead seminars for schools, parents and communities to share critical information about what is happening with our children and adolescents and what we can do about it. I seek to serve the non-profits, schools and other organizations in my community to do what is best for the community, espe- cially for children and adolescents.
I love volunteering in schools, using my gifts and resources on boards, committees and other efforts. I find that some of the most effective, life-giving and meaningful ministry comes in partnering with and serving the community.
I am passionate about it as a parent also, already looking for, praying for and encouraging those adults who, in addition to my wife and I, will invest in the lives of our children in a healthy way. I enjoy getting to know, praying for and serving my children’s teachers, coaches and youth leaders.
I was once asked to sum up my thoughts from a 2-hour semi- nar on this subject in a couple sentences. I said, “The truth is that many things have changed dramatically, while others have not. While the problems are complex and overwhelm- ing, the solution is simple; we need more healthy, invested adults in the lives of our children and adolescents who genu- inely care about what is best for them.”
It is my assertion that this happens best in community. It happens best through working together, partnering, col- laborating and re-thinking community. While it is possible to achieve a healthier culture for our adolescents without this partnership, I am convinced it is not sustainable without working together.
We as the church often proclaim our desire to lead within our community, but do not take the first step. I believe the church is called to lead its community in working together for our children and adolescents. We must partner with par- ents, families, schools, community organizations and the community as a whole in order to care for, support and help our children and adolescents become healthy adults who are a part of our society instead of isolated from it.
This (and any) partnership, collaboration or effort to work together must start with humility and service. The church must lead by serving, humbly seeking to work together and do what is best for children and adolescents—and not focus on our own needs, desires or agenda. One of the greatest deterrents to any collaborative effort is a focus on your own agenda. Whether internally or externally, directly or indi- rectly, though, we often allow our agenda, as pure as it may be, to be our focus. This situation not only makes healthy collaboration impossible, it lacks in humility and does not embrace a posture of service.
While this generation faces many challenges, it is also the most mission-oriented generation in the history of the Unit- ed States and has more potential than any generation in recent memory. I wholeheartedly believe our children and adolescents are worth fighting for. There is no greater time than the present for the church to rise up, to do and be what it was called to be: the hands and feet of Christ, bringing the love and grace of Jesus to the world. We are partners with Christ in bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth. If we embrace this partnership and seek to partner with our com- munity in humility and service, anything is possible. We are all in this together regardless of our gender, race, age, theol- ogy or economic status.
For me, I have a desire to give my life to this cause. My hope is to bring transformation to everyone I encounter through Jesus Christ. There is no greater way to love than to serve— or better yet, as Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Ecumenism is more than working with other churches and other denominations. It means working and partnering with our communities. It means setting aside our agenda for Christ’s agenda of service, love and grace in humility.
Our children and adolescents are worth fighting for. Jesus died for love of them, just as he has for adults. We are called to a life of humble service and partnership with the people and organizations of our community for the good of all. It is time for the church of Jesus Christ to rise up—not to fight a culture war, but to partner with and serve our communities in love.
This is not just an idealistic hope or dream; it is a call. Per- haps more now than ever, our children and adolescents need us. It is time to be the church of Jesus Christ in the world.