Reaching for the Bigger Story
About the Guest
Who else is influencing your child's spiritually? Former youth pastor Reggie Joiner explains why involving others from your church to come alongside your child spiritually may be the best thing you can do to keep them in the faith.
Reggie JoinerReggie Joiner is the founder and CEO of the reThink Group, a nonprofit organization providing resources and training to help churches maximize their influence on the spiritual growth of the next generation. The reThink Group (www.reThinkGroup.org) provides innovative curriculum resources and training for leaders who work with preschoolers, children, families, and students. They have partners throughout the United States and eight other countries. The reThink Group is also the architect and prim...more
Who else is influencing your child’s spiritually?
Reaching for the Bigger Story
Bob: When bad things happen to you and your family—things aren’t going well, do you have a tendency to try to cover it up or gloss over it? Reggie Joiner says it is time for us to be honest, transparent, and authentic with each other.
Reggie: No one in my family or your family ever planned in their picture for someone to get abused, or for someone to get cancer, or for someone to get divorced, or for all of these things that can somehow come out of nowhere from life to happen. But when they do happen, the best thing we can do as Christian families, and the best thing we can do as the Christian church, is to be authentic enough in our failure and our brokenness so the world outside of us that is broken can see God show up.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, February 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey; and I'm Bob Lepine. We are going to talk today about the role the church, and particularly the youth ministry, can play in helping families through some of the really challenging times all of us face.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I must see if I can get you into some trouble right here at the beginning of today’s program, okay?
Reggie: Go for it.
Bob: I’m just going to launch...
Dennis: Listen, the guest said that!
Bob: Yes. He is egging you on...
Dennis: He said, “Go for it.”
Bob: That’s right. Here...
Dennis: He has only been on one broadcast—he is already kind of...
Bob: Parents come to you, and they have a freshman in high school. They say, “We are trying to decide whether we should let our freshman son go to the youth group at church. You know. We are just not sure whether we should send him to the youth group. I mean...”
Dennis: Why is that an issue?
Bob: “Well, because—you know—pizza and volleyball. We are just not sure they embrace the values—we heard about this youth pastor last year. Did you hear about what he did? He showed them a movie that we would not show our kids. He showed the whole youth group a movie that we would not show...”
Dennis: I wonder if our guest on today’s broadcast can answer that. He was a youth pastor for ten years.
Bob: I want to hear your advice to this mom and dad? You raised six kids. Did your kids go to the youth group?
Dennis: Yes. They went, but it was not mindless. Bottom line—we wanted our children to have all the godly influences they could have in their lives. This was not the only one, but this was an important one because, frankly, our youth group, overall, was headed in the right direction.
Bob: But you know there are some parents who are going, “I am not—the youth group is the wrong environment. It is peer relationships. Kids are sneaking off and making out. We are just not going to send out...”
Why are you laughing? Have you heard some of this before?
Reggie: Sure! I have heard all of this before. You know, at the end of the day, the problem is a parent who is too “insulational” or “isolational” with their kids will end up pushing their kids further into something that they shouldn’t go into. At the end of the day, you really have to ask yourself some hard questions about, “Am I trying to protect my kids or am I trying to launch my kids?”
Ultimately, I think, we are called to send our children into a world and into a culture to penetrate that culture—to take the message of Christ into culture. If we won’t let them go to the youth group, then I am not sure how they are ever going to be equipped to do that.
Bob: See. You didn’t have to get in trouble. We just let the guest do it.
Dennis: Let him do it.
The voice you just heard is that of Reggie Joiner who had how many years in youth ministry?
Reggie: I was a youth pastor for almost 15 years.
Dennis: So you know a little bit about what is going on there. He has written a book called Parenting Beyond Your Capacity: Connect Your Family to a Wider Community. What you are really talking about here, Reggie, is how a parent really doesn’t see himself or herself as a team as being sufficient to do it by themselves. You are saying they need all the help they can get from the spiritual community.
Reggie: Absolutely. The two balancing truths that we have to keep in focus create a tension that is a necessary tension for us to live in. One truth is that no one has the potential to influence a son or a daughter like a parent. The second is: A parent is not the only influence a child needs. It takes both.
Bob: So the parent who says, “Alright, I’m just not sure I want the 27-year-old youth pastor who has been married for two years—doesn’t have any kids...”
Dennis: Who may be only marginally more mature than the teenager...
Bob: One step ahead of the hounds. “I’m not sure I want him to be that other influence in my son or daughter’s life.”
Reggie: But how many of us can think of people when we were 19, 18, or 17, that were 26 and 27 who inspired us, who influenced us, who motivated us in our faith. I think it takes a variety of adults in a son or daughter’s life to influence them in the right direction. As a matter of fact, over and over and over again, we are going to say, “It is the family and it is the church working in sync together.”
Now, that doesn’t mean that every family has their act together—like all Christian leaders have their act together in the church—because when we really get honest about it, the fact is there is as much dysfunction in the leaders of the church as there are parents in the family. But God likes to work through dysfunction. God loves to use that as a platform to demonstrate grace, forgiveness, all kinds of issues. At the end of the day, we can’t argue with this, God chose the church—God chose the family to nurture faith in the heart and life of an individual.
Dennis: Reggie, if we got out of the studio and walked a few feet back into my office, after we kind of cleaned off my desk so you could see the picture, there is a picture of my family back there—all 16 grandkids, all 13 adults. It is a wide-angled shot. It is a Christmas picture that I had blown up. I like to say when I show people that picture, “You can Photoshop a picture, but you can’t Photoshop a family. “
Dennis: You have a concept in your book called “The Stock Family Syndrome.” I really like this because it is what I am saying when I am saying, “You know what, we are a family.”
Dennis: We are human beings.
Dennis: You know what, we are not perfect. Yes, I am on the radio here and so is Bob; but I am going to tell you something. That does not make us have perfect families because we are human beings who all are in desperate need of a Savior and of being, not only redeemed with God, but also being saved from themselves on a daily basis. That really is what you are talking about it, isn’t it?
Reggie: Yes. If I could only say one thing and then this is the only thing I would be remembered for in our ministry, it would be that there is a bigger story for every family, and every church, and every individual that sometimes when we create the wrong kind of pictures, we interfere with. I got “The Stock Family Syndrome” idea from riding down the road one day. I saw a church billboard with this perfect family up on the billboard. It just looked great.
Dennis: Cheesy grins.
Reggie: Yes. “We’re a family-friendly church.”
Dennis: Are there candles burning?
Reggie: I thought, “If I’m a family riding down the road, knowing the mess and the baggage that exists sometimes in my family, and I look at that ideal picture, that could keep me from going to that church. As a matter of fact, I think, “I can’t live up to that so I’m not sure how to get there.”
Reggie: Yearsago, I actually was involved with another national organization helping them in a creative meeting. We were talking about the solution for families in our country. The facilitator of the meeting wrote up on the screen or the board this phrase, “Fully-equipped man of God” taken right out of the New Testament. He said, “Our goal should be to get every man to become a fully-equipped man of God.”
I’m sitting in that creative meeting; I’m thinking, “I’m bothered by this. I don’t really know why; but I am looking at the phrase, ‘Fully-equipped man of God,’ and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got middle school kids at this time and I don’t think I have time to become that before I can lead them. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember my wife ever using the phrase ‘Fully-equipped man of God’ and my name in the same sentence.”
So I am thinking, “If we are trying to get every man to become that, then we are going to frustrate an entire generation of people who are looking at that picture and whatever lists we attach to that picture and they are going to think, ‘We can’t be that. It is going to take us time to become that. While we are trying to become that, our kids are going to grow up and walk away.’”
What we really have understood over the last few years is that there is this wide spectrum of faith—that parents are all over the map in. If we give them a picture that is unrealistic for them, we will basically shut them down and cause them to have less hope than more hope.
Here is what I decided several years ago after working with a number of different families on this idea of, “Is there a better picture or a bigger story?” It is this: God is not interested in using perfect pictures. God is interested in using broken people.
Regardless of your baggage as a dad, or your baggage as a mom, or regardless of what family situation you came from, God has a desire to use you in a bigger story right now as a platform to demonstrate His message of restoration and redemption. The wrong picture doesn’t give us that kind of focus. A bigger story gives us that kind of focus.
Dennis: The problem is, Reggie, because we have families—you have one. We can look at the picture today—what it looks like—and that can be very discouraging. We can forget that there is a bigger story of God at work in this family. I want to say, “The older I get, the more the big picture story of what God is up to resonates in my heart because God takes broken, depraved, selfish human beings who are bent on their own way and redeems them, and gives them a message and puts them on a playing field for Him.”
Reggie: I have so many families who come up to me after we talk about the difference in having a bigger-story approach than a better-picture approach. They say things like—a mother the other day said this to me, “I’ve got to go home and let my family off the hook.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “I have been trying to conform them into the image of my picture of what a family should look like for years. I have to go home and apologize.”
I have had dads who have come up to me and have said, “You know what, I just assumed because my picture of a family didn’t become or didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to turn out, that I could never be a better father. I just kind of leaned into that dysfunction and thought, ‘I can’t change.’”
I think there is so much disillusionment we get from a better-picture approach than a bigger-story approach. You are right, the bigger-story approach gives us hope; it gives us energy. Yesterday we talked a little bit about people dropping out of faith. That is because sometimes we have invited them into an ideal they can’t live up to instead of a story that is ongoing and never-ending that is always about redemption and restoration, regardless of what happens. You invite them into the story, there adventure there, there is risk there, there is romance there in a way we can’t even imagine or talk about.
Dennis: And there is failure there.
Reggie: There has to be failure—if there isn’t failure, then we don’t understand the love and the grace of God in the way that we understand it. It is all a part of the story. I think, in our churches, we are notorious, even in our books and what we do, we are notorious for giving a world lists that they have to live up to instead of inviting them into a story.
Dennis: Sure. You know, Reggie, I am nodding my head, “That’s right; that’s right.” I am saying, “Get off my soapbox. This is usually reserved for me to get on my soapbox here.”
Reggie: That is just because we are both old now.
Dennis: Not that old! I think a question could be asked at this point, “What is the big story all about? Why does the family exist?” I know you believe the same thing we do. It isn’t about existing for self.
Dennis: It is about a capital B capital S: Big Story.
Reggie: Right. It is. The Story is the story of God showing up in your world and my world and redeeming us to Himself. At the end of the day, the most powerful thing that can happen in our families and our churches is that we are living demonstrations of that.
No one in my family or your family ever planned in their picture for someone to get abused or for someone to get cancer, or for someone to get divorced, or for all of these things that can somehow come out of nowhere from life to happen. But when they do happen, there is a very real God sitting on the sidelines saying, “I want to be a part of your life. I want to restore and redeem in a way that only I can.”
The best thing we can do as Christian families, and the best thing we can do as the Christian church, is to be authentic enough in our failure and our brokenness so the world outside of us that is broken can see God show up. If God can show up in our world in that way then maybe God can do something for them. Instead of holding up our pictures and saying, “This is the way you need to try to become,”—a Christian or church—we let them into our authentic story and see what God is doing. One way it kind of points to us; the other way, it points to God.
Dennis: You just said the reason a family exists—again it is a very religious term—but it is to glorify God.
Dennis: To show God off. It is to reflect Who He is—what His love is like—what His forgiveness is like—what His mercy is like—to a world that doesn’t know Him. Now, I want to go back to the billboard.
Dennis: So what kind of picture do you want on the billboard?
Bob: Let me just say, “Those people you saw on that billboard—they are not even related to one another. They are models.”
Reggie: You are right. It is a stock family. If they were related to each other, the picture wouldn’t tell the story. I mean, the father probably has his own issues related to he is a pharmaceutical rep and he is hooked on Ambien, The mother—she is in debt up to her eyes; but they are smiling. The little son—he is ADHD. There are all these issues going on, but they don’t show up in the picture. Pictures create an illusion that is not real.
Bob: I think everybody who has listened to us talk today celebrates the idea of God doing a redemptive work in the lives of individuals. Wait a second, “I don’t want my teenager to go out and start getting drunk and using marijuana so that God can do a redemptive work in my teenager’s life. I would rather have him grow up to be a good, godly kid who quotes Bible verses and never goes down that path.” You don’t want that for your kids do you? Do you want them out there in the ditch?
Reggie: You know what, no father and no mother wants their kid to endure that kind of pain. No father and no mother wants their children to have to go through those circumstances and situations; but I think as a younger parent, I made the mistake of thinking my job was to protect them so that they could be happy. My job was to insulate them so that they could be happy. Somehow I bought into this myth that as a parent, my greatest dream in life was just for my kids to be happy when there is something so far greater than their happiness.
It is for them to be fully alive and for them to be engaged in a story that God has designed them to do.
I remember there was a point in my life when one of my daughters went through something horrific. I was struggling with it. I walked into the office. I looked at every book that had been written about parenting. I was trying to figure out, “What do I do with this and how do I fix this? What is the solution for this?” It was almost as if I was trying to be God in her life in that moment. I don’t hear God speak audibly, but that day I sat down at the desk and I wrote this down because it was like God was saying this to me about my daughter.
This is just what I wrote down. “I am not trying to make them happy. I want them to really live. In the middle of their pain, I can be a better friend than anyone—even you. I am the only one who can love them unconditionally, forgive them forever, and be a perfect Father. Maybe you just need to trust Me enough so they can see Me.
Besides, with all your issues, I think it is probably better for them to trust Me more than they trust you. Isn’t it more important for them to love Me more than they love you? I can heal their hearts; you can’t. I can give them eternal life; you can’t. I am God; you are not.”
The most powerful thing that any parent can do, even if it involves risk, let their kids step out into the world and experience God in a way where God can prove to them that He is their perfect Father. A hundred years from now, two hundred years from now, it is not going to matter that I was the best possible father they could ever have. What is going to matter is their relationship with their heavenly Father.
Dennis: The problem, Reggie, I am just speaking from my own life—not somebody else—this is not theory. This has been my experience. Someone has described a child as the parent’s heart walking around outside their body.
Reggie: Wow. That is powerful.
Dennis: You get the news of the story of how your child is not doing well—not merely in a point in time—but it becomes a story—a series of pictures. At that moment, as a parent, it is so easy to absorb how they are not doing well into your own failures of how you didn’t do this; you ought to have done that; you didn’t pray enough; you didn’t read the Bible enough; you weren’t Christ-like enough. There, undoubtedly, is a parent right now listening to our broadcast who is right there.
I think the best thing we can do, before we close the broadcast today, is to ask you to pray for that parent because they haven’t had the “Ah ha” moment that you wrote about in your book.
Here is the hope: Christianity is about an empty tomb. Christ is alive! He isn’t dead. He is capable of meeting us in our own journey—in our own mess—and He has. I want you to come back in a moment though and pray for that parent.
Reggie: I will do that.
Dennis: And Bob, I want you to share how a parent, a youth pastor, a pastor, an aunt, or an uncle or grandparent could get a copy of what Reggie has written here because what needs to happen is: parents need to huddle up around this and virally infect one another with this concept of community and Christian family and replace perhaps some of these phantom pictures of families with a more authentic biblical picture.
Bob: Yes. We have been talking today about how churches and families can work together in raising the next generation to love Christ. I think what you are hearing us talk about today is the need to re-calibrate the picture of what following Jesus looks like because it gets distorted in some settings. Reggie, you address that very well in your book.
I want to encourage parents to get a copy of the book. It is called Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. It talks about the need for churches and families to come together in a coordinated way to have an impact in the lives of our sons and our daughters. We have copies of the book Parenting Beyond Your Capacity in our FamilyLife TodayResource Center.
You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how to get a copy of the book or you can call us toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY (1-800-358-6329). That is 1-800-F as in “Family,” L as in “Life,” and then the word TODAY. Ask for Reggie Joiner’s book Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. We will make arrangements to send it to you; or, again, simply order it online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
We are grateful whenever we hear from listeners. We get emails and phone calls regularly from many of you who listen to the program with thoughts about what you have heard. Sometimes your thoughts are corrective; sometimes you suggest that maybe we should look at things from a different perspective. We appreciate that. Some of you write and tell us what God is doing in your life through this program, and that is a great encouragement to us and to our team. We appreciate any time you get in touch with us. I just wanted to let you know how encouraging that is for our staff.
Those times when you are able to include a donation when you contact us, that is a great encouragement as well because the costs associated with producing and syndicating this radio program are covered by listeners who donate, who make contributions to help support us. That is what keeps us on this station and our network of stations all across the country.
This week, if you can help us with a donation, we would like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a four-CD set just in time for Valentine’s Day. There is a message in the CD series from Dennis that he calls Romance in the Rain: How to Keep the Spark Going When You Are in the Rainy Season in your marriage. Then three CD’s that feature conversations we had with Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus, the authors of a book called Intimate Issues: 21 Questions Women Ask About Romance and Passion and Intimacy in Marriage.
We would love to send you this four-CD series when you make a donation to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today this week. If you are donating online at FamilyLifeToday.com, type the word, “ROMANCE,” in the online key code box. If you call 1-800-FLTODAY to make your donation, just ask for the Romance CD’s. Again, they are our gift to you; and we do appreciate your partnership with us and your support of this ministry. It is always great to hear from you.
Now, as we have talked today about raising the next generation and how churches and families can work together in that process, Dennis, you asked our guest Reggie Joiner if he would pray for our listeners.
Dennis: I just mentioned, Reggie, I would like you to pray for those parents who are defeated—they are discouraged—disillusioned—want to give up on a child—on themselves—and just need God to intersect their lives. Would you do that?
Reggie: I’ll do that. “Heavenly Father, I pray for every parent, every grandparent who might be listening to this today. Parenting has a way of reminding us how imperfect we are. In the middle of that sense of imperfection, guilt, and just helplessness, sometimes we feel—we will recognize that You didn’t design us to be a perfect father—that You are the One Who is the perfect Heavenly Father and that we would just be reminded today that You have this desire for us to understand Your unconditional love—to use our stories as parents—our stories as families as a platform to demonstrate to us and to our children and to the generations who come after us Your story of restoration and redemption.
“Father, even in a greater sense than that, the families outside of our families—the families that are outside of our churches—that You have a desire to take what has happened to us—to take the pain, the difficulty, the circumstances—to weave it into a part of Your Story so that everyone who is looking on can see that You really are Who You say You are.
“God, I pray for anyone who is listening today who, in the privacy in their own life and world, struggles with things they just feel they weren’t able to do and accomplish according to some picture they had—that they would just relax and invite You back into their story to do the work that only You can do in their life and to just remember that You are a God who will take all of this, knit it together for a purpose and a plan for Your glory and Kingdom. In Jesus’ name; Amen.”
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