one-eared mickey mouse

I love my church. I suppose I would have said that at any point along my journey through several churches and parachurch ministry environments, ranging from simple and passionate, to manipulative and ultimately toxic, to healthy and vibrant. In the moment, I have to love it or I wouldn’t be there. But I can honestly say that Christ Community is the most robustly scriptural, healthy, life-giving church I have ever been a part of. I recently passed the mark that made it the church I have worshiped and served in the longest in my 19 years as a believer.

Last Sunday was the start of Spring Break, and our worship services were designated as family services. Students from 1st grade and up joined their families in “big church,” students played and sang on stage, and our high school pastor brought the message. His message was fantastic, but what I love most about these days is seeing families singing, praying, taking communion, and worshiping together. It’s unfortunately rare in our context.

You may have heard of a descriptor called the “One-Eared Mickey Mouse,” in which student ministry is seen as an appendage to the church as a whole. Often the leadership of the youth have a greater deal of autonomy than other ministries. As is the case at our church, the youth group meets in a separate location from other church activities (ours is actually in another state… but we straddle the Kansas-Missouri state line so it’s less than 2 miles away). Students and even members of the volunteer team may consider the youth pastor “their” pastor rather than the senior pastor.

None of those things is inherently disastrous, but I think there is a much healthier way to view student ministry. Reid Kapple, our high school pastor, challenged us on Sunday to foster deep, intentional intergenerational connections, not just to combat the one-eared Mickey Mouse phenomenon but because it is thoroughly biblical. Drawing from Psalm 78:1-8, Reid charged believers of all ages to think of the local church as not just a collection of families but a family of families. When we witness child dedications, the entire church body affirms its commitment to help the parents raise their kids “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

I don’t really hold up my end of that covenant until they’re preteens. On one hand, that’s my niche, my sweet spot, and trying to pretend otherwise could be a bad idea. But I need to evaluate how committed I am to seeing every family, as well as singles, as part of my church family. Whether the kids are years away from youth group, or they are well past those years, or they have no kids at all, every family in the local church belongs to me, and I to them. We are in this together.

Every family should view the youth pastor(s), the corporate worship pastor, the children’s pastor, even the executive pastor as “their” pastor. Parents are the first and best youth pastor to their own kids, but the network of adults invested in each child’s life must be strong. Reid referred to Chap Clark’s book Hurt, in which Clark proposes that we flip the typical child:adult ratio around. Instead of five kids for every adult (a typical ratio to maintain safety), every child and student ought to have at least five adults in his or her life who know them by name, spend time with them, and invest in their life and success. I think we in the suburban church have a lot to learn from our friends in churches where everyone is either literally your aunt, uncle, or cousin, or might as well be.

If you’re around Christ Community and you haven’t read Pastor Tom’s book Ekklesia: Rediscovering God’s Design For the Church, make sure you pick up a copy. Sorry I have no link to share; if I see it on Amazon or a publisher’s site I will update this.

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About andrew burden

andrew blogs about being a volunteer youth leader, teacher, video editor, husband, friend, child of God
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