Culture

Pastoring in a Culture of Independence and Fragility: Reflections from Parenting

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It’s a strange thing to raise kids in a culture different from the one you were raised in.

And it’s a strange thing to pastor young adults raised in that foreign culture.

I’m realizing it’s not only foreign to me as an Australian. 

There are elements which are foreign to me as a Christian.

Parenting

I first noticed the strangeness the week I brought my firstborn home from the hospital and it continued throughout her early years as I got all kinds of parenting advice, encouraging me to make my tiny child independent. Put her in her own room, down the hallway from mine. Let her cry it out. Teach her not to need me. I began to feel like a failure whenever my toddler cried for me. Wondered what was wrong with her. I wanted to be a good parent. I didn’t want to raise a spoiled or “needy” child so I followed the advice. I disciplined her for crying or depending on me. Right up until a moment at 2am when, as a toddler, she wanted to crawl into bed with me and suddenly my desire to comfort her overrode my desire to have a convenient child. I figured, “There are times when I definitely need to say yes or no to her. But in all the gray area in between—whenever I’m asking “Will saying yes spoil her? But will saying no teach her she’s all alone?”—I choose to say yes. Because slightly ego-centric children eventually learn that the world does not revolve around them. But emotionally insecure children will only find more and more ways to believe that the world is not safe for them.

I’d like to quote a bible passage but the funny thing is, the bible doesn’t tell us it’s normal to need one another. Because such advice was unnecessary for most other cultures until now. 

For most people in most times, choosing to be independent was a death wish. In many places it still is.

For most people in most times, choosing to be independent was a death wish. In many places it still is. Click To Tweet

The other way that parenting cross-culturally has been uncomfortable for me is in the expectation that it’s my job to be sure nothing ever happens to my kid. That it’s my job to be sure they never feel pain, never take risks, never have disappointments. So for a while I dished out advice to ensure my children avoided everything that could bring discomfort and I mopped up the mess whenever a problem arose and felt like a failure every time my child experienced conflict or discomfort. Right up until the moment when it all came crashing down and I couldn’t mitigate the pain of the world anymore. (I think now that all this was as much about my own fragility, protecting myself from the pain of watching them in pain.) Jesus actually promised us we’d have problems but at the same time seemed unshaken by that reality:

In this world you will have trouble.

But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Pastoring

And now, as a pastor to young adults, I see what those cultural values of independence and comfort have wrought. Many of the young adults I pastor are depressed and lonely and at the same time, anxious about risk and failure. It’s hard work for them to go against years of training in these values of independence and comfort. And it’s made especially challenging by the ways these two habits are interwoven: it will take risk and discomfort to let ourselves depend on one another. And enduring discomfort will be even more difficult if we do so feeling ashamed when we need one another. But scripture assumes that we need one another and that humans are made with the capacity to grow from challenges. Rather than directing us toward independence and safety, Scripture teaches us we were created to be interdependent and resilient.

Rather than directing us toward independence and safety, Scripture teaches us we were created to be interdependent and resilient. Click To Tweet

This week an NPR interview struck a chord with me. The author was talking about his new book, The Coddling Of The American Mind, which unpacks a culture of “safetyism.” He says,

Many students seem to be interpreting things not through the lens of is this right or wrong, or even is this offensive or acceptable, but is this dangerous or safe? And this … is what is so damaging … People are anti-fragile. We actually need challenges. We need to sometimes even be afraid in order to overcome our fears.

Everything in the world will tell us “You’re all alone” and “You can’t handle this.”

In a fallen world, it’s tempting to believe these as truth. 

But God has given us what we need to not only survive but grow and thrive—even in a lonely, painful world.

In him, we are never alone. In him every challenge is an invitation into strength.

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14 responses to “The 3, the 12 and the 120

  1. I am a church planting pastor in Flint, Michigan. We have started a “Cell church” mission. Beginning with one leadership cell 3 years ago we have multiplied into 2 cells and now 4. Our cell groups of 8-12 people meet in homes during the week then gather around the Lord’s table on Sunday for celebration. As pastor I spend most of my time trying to encourage and dicsiple my leaders one one one often over coffe or a meal. I have 3 trustees who help me in the business of the church and the process of decerning the Spirits leading. 3,12,48? We want to grow into a fellowhip of small groups where the full life of the church is expereince: Discipleship, Fellowhip, Worship, Mission and Ministry. We are not called to build a building. Our focus is focusing on small. It has been a slow process of relationship building, but it is working. http://WWW.Newwinemission.com

    Dave Kulchar, Pastor New Wine Anglican Mission

  2. This is pretty much a re-working of the classic “The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman. He says the same sort of stuff. Basically that Jesus started with a couple of people and those people took on a couple of others until we end up with 2.2 billion people today identifying themselves as Christian. True change can only come from life-on-life ministry.

  3. Modern Ancient … I am aware of the overlap with Prof Coleman’s work. Thanks for mentioning it. However, although there is overlap, I thnk the underlying assumptions are vastly different (say between what Crouch is talking about and what Coleman is describing as a discipleship method). Not wishing to tak anyhting away from the kind of discipleship that Coleman is advocating (I’m a fan), I think there is an ability to create a social community, an ethos of the Spirit which incarnates the presense of Christ socially in the surrounding city (or community etc.) and changes the culture for Christ, in so doing changes peoiples lives. It begins differently than by say one guy discpling three guys and then the three doing it again to another three (although again this is important). There is the power of a politic embodying Christ in the surrounding culture against social ills, evils and injustices, as well as speaking and ministering verbaly the salvation of God in Christ in each sitaution that begins with a way of life birth socially in a missional community. This is what I am talking about in this post. Hope this clarifies. Have I accurately read the differences between myself and Coleman?

  4. david, your response above.. bang on. The lens is completely different. If the church is to be an alternative culture.. but mostly is not.. then the question of how we create culture is primary. We need counter-formational disciplines, yes, but more broadly the description above gets at the relational and Spirit dynamic. And its critical that we form a culture because “culture forms attention.”

  5. David – Fusion International does what you are talking about – and in a highly developed way. The movement started in Australia, and now is planting missional communities throughout the world, using a 3-12- 120 type of concept, combined with deliberate social engagement strategies combined with the networking strength of intentional communities that work together to transform culture. It works, and in a wide variety of situations.

  6. […] therefore, I contend we need at least three, along the lines of the 3,12,120 that I have discussed here. I contend that three people have a variance of gifts so one leader “doesn’t get […]

  7. […] leadership pushes the church outward instead of inward. Once assembled they will model THE 3 (4-5), THE 12, THE 120 seeking to build a strong shepherd/elder leadership who then they each shepherd 3-5 people. […]

  8. […] leadership pushes the church outward instead of inward. Once assembled they will model THE 3 (4-5), THE 12, THE 120 seeking to build a strong shepherd/elder leadership who then they each shepherd 3-5 people. […]

  9. […] leadership pushes the church outward instead of inward. Once assembled they will model THE 3 (4-5), THE 12, THE 120 seeking to build a strong shepherd/elder leadership who then they each shepherd 3-5 people. […]

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