Community, Faith, Ministry, Roy Baldwin

Let’s stop trying to fix each other.

This past week through multiple interactions with people, reading different articles and posts, and listening to a few different podcasts, this one thought has permeated through my feelings: “We need to stop fixing other people and start truly loving them.”

Context

For those who know my story, its a journey of coming alongside families and youth who have experienced some sort of trauma, loss or neglect. This includes our own journey as a family, with losing parents, 4 major moves and dealing with our own brokenness (conflict, stressors, sin, etc.) as a couple and as a family.

In a post I wrote a few years ago called, “The Beautiful Messiness of the Gospel,” I shared my understanding of the Gospel (which is important to this post):

You see, If the Gospel isn’t radically changing me, is it truly the Gospel? If I have good news to share and I am unwilling to share it, does it mean I never received it? If I cannot do what Christ did: leave his home and comfort and to take on the grief and sin of this world, to bind the wounds of the broken, provide a voice to those who are marginalized, to love my enemy, has the Gospel truly changed me? These are hard questions for me to not only ask myself but to ask God. But I have to ask them. And not only should I ask these questions but I have to find ways through my actions and words to share with others that the Gospel is the only answer to the fear, doubts and hate we see in our world today.

This perspective of His work in and through my life and my own brokenness is important context for what I want to share next.

A Sense of Belonging

In his book, “What Happened To You?” Dr. Bruce Perry shares,

“Love, given and felt, is dependent upon the ability to be present, attentive, attuned and responsive to another human being. The glue of humanity has been essential to the survival of our species-and to the health and happiness of the individual…It is in the small moments, when we feel the other person fully present, fully engaged, connected and accepting, that we make the most powerful and enduring bonds.”

“What Happened To You” (page 81-82)

We see this so clearly in 1 Corinthians 13…:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

1 Corinthians 13:5-8

We use the word “community” a lot in Christian circles. We talk of its importance and the benefit of being in Christian community to help grow faith. I think this is especially true coming out of a pandemic but I wonder if we truly know the purpose and significance of community. Typically when we speak about community we do it through the lens of programing and activities (small groups/life groups, Bible studies, men’s and/or women’s groups, etc.), but that isn’t really getting to the essence of community.

If I asked you for words to describe the benefits of community, we might use words like; authenticity, trusting, safe, united, a sense of belonging, etc.

Unfortunately for many people this never becomes their experience in many of the programming mentioned above. Programs in and of themselves cannot produce the kind of faith many of these programs hope to achieve. Programming cannot replace relationships. For these initiatives to work we actually need to have a deeper understanding of what it means to produce healthier people and interactions. We need to have a fuller and deeper understanding of how faith is transmitted and strengthened.

Let’s Stop Fixing Each Other

One thing I often see, especially in men, is our desire to fix things.

I know I struggle with this at times, especially with my wife and kids, to always having an answer or response. We do this a lot in churches. We throw a Scripture verse at someone or use some Christian cliché.

I had hoped that a lifetime of coming alongside other people would help me be more empathetic and a better listener, but I always have work to do in this area. I do like to think that some of my greatest growth over the past few years is to give up trying to constantly managing others perceptions of me and just being fully present in the lives of other people.

What does it mean to be fully present:

To listen. To empathize. To not only ask good questions but the right ones (Jesus was amazing at this). If correction is needed, to do it with gentleness and grace. If you speak truth…do it in love.

I am struck by the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2. Despite much opposition from the locals Paul shares his intentions:

We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children[a] among you” and then he shares an incredible image, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

1 Thessalonians 2: 6-12

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children…” Paul is describing the bond of attachment a mother provides for her children that goes beyond just the physical benefits of nursing, but the emotional and relational attachments that are also forged and the benefits such as lower stress, increased calmness, a feeling of safety, etc.

Research has shown in multiple studies, such as The Mills Longitudinal Study and the Harvard Study of Adult Development, that people who feel connected to others is critical to healthier outcomes. These relational pictures of mom and dad that Paul is writing to describe his relationship with the Thessalonians as one of safety, healthy, nurturing, loving and caring. You don’t see judging, fixing, shaming, condemning. You see gentleness. You see in verse ll and 12, “as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging to live lives worthy of God…”

Maybe what we desire more than community is actually connection. And not just any connection: Healthy connections. Safe connections. Godly connections. Gospel-centered connections.

We do not necessarily achieve connection by always trying to fix each other.

So…the next time we feel like we need to fix someone… we need to stop and listen. Identify with their humanity as an image bearer of God. Be fully present. Care for them. Love them…yes, even our enemies. Ask clarifying questions. Be safe for them. If we must disagree or correct…do it with a spirit of gentleness and care for them. We need to care for them as much as we care for the truth…because what we see in Christ and in research…healthy relationships and connections are the key to healing and restoration.

Community, Culture, Faith, Family, Ministry, Roy Baldwin

We Are Failing Children

The intent of this post is not to blame, shame, or politicize data. I also don’t want to oversimplify a very complex issue. I simply want to share a perspective I don’t hear talked about a lot in Christian circles. (This is the first of two posts.)

It is difficult for me to watch the news and scroll through my social media feeds nowadays without a sense that at some level we are failing children and youth on an unprecedented level. It’s everywhere. Postmodernism is redefining everything. Yuval Harari in his book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” provides some excellent descriptors of postmodernism: “Modernity is a surprisingly simple deal. The entire contract can be summarized in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power...Since there is no script, and since humans fulfill no role in any great drama, terrible things might befall us and no power will come to save us or give meaning to our suffering. There won’t be a happy ending, or a bad ending, or any ending at all. Things just happen, one after the other. The modern world does not believe in purpose, only in cause.”“Meaning and authority always go hand in hand. Whoever determines the meaning of our actions – whether they are good or evil, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly – also gains the authority to tell us what to think and how to behave.”

If postmodernism contends that there is no objective truth…is it any wonder that children are suffering?

I typically have the following filters: a deep transformative view of the Gospel (good news); the sacredness of every life; the loss and trauma of our world. I have worked with at-risk and vulnerable children for decades and in multiple venues and situations. These filters I have are not just merely sentiments…they have been forged in the fire of life.

So, as I think about the sentiment of “we are failing children” there is a deeply personal part of this for me that comes out and that I have to process.

There are stories and faces of the young men and their families that had a huge impact on my time at EGA (residential care facility serving the 5 boroughs of NY City). As I served as a houseparent with my wife at a residential school, loving and supporting a home of 8-10 girls (70+ girls in 9 years). The lives, the stories, the joy, the loss. When I think of our own family journey of 27 years of marriage and three kids. It’s been a hard but beautiful adventure. There have been some really amazing and beautiful moments but there have also been hardships and losses.

Why are children failing?

I firmly believe that the family unit has been outsourcing and abdicating its responsibilities for decades (generations) because the very institutions meant to support and partner with families, such as schools, churches, and government, have effectively neutered the authority of the family by telling families, “we can do it better than you,” and “we know better than you.” (Whoever determines the meaning of our actions – whether they are good or evil, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly – also gains the authority to tell us what to think and how to behave.”)

In essence, how dare you show up to a school board meeting and express your concerns about what is being taught or talk about the safety of your children without being labeled or looked down upon.

How are we failing children you ask? Let’s look at some of the data:

  • Prior to the pandemic less than half of children in the US were flourishing according to a study out of John Hopkins. Children who are flourishing are directly connected to the strength (resilience and connection) of the parent/child relationship.
  • Since the pandemic, these indicators of children failing have gotten worse. According to the CDC: a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health; 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless; 55% reported experiencing emotional abuse by a parent or other adult in the home, including swearing at, insulting, or putting down the student.
  • 11% experienced physical abuse by a parent or other adult in the home, including hitting and beating
  • 29% reported a parent or other adult in their home lost a job.
  • Teen suicide is up (31% increase from 2019-2021) – and a fivefold increase in suicide attempts in children ages 10-12 (2010-2020)
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that hospital visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17 jumped 51 percent between February and March 2021. For boys, that number increased by 4 percent.

If this data is true, (and there is so much more data) then why are we not talking more about this? Why are children, after spending more time at home during the pandemic, seem to be worse off? Research tells us that the healthy parent/child relationship is critical to the long-term resilience of children and leads to better outcomes in children and adults than anything else. If children are doing worse, then what does that say about the health of homes and families? Our children should not be worse off…

This doesn’t mean we start shaming parents, although there is plenty of blame and ownership to go around with how parents are raising their children today. If you ask most parents, they would probably tell you, “I was just following the norm and expectations of taking kids to school, loving my child, being involved in their activities, occasionally taking them to church and they will turn out ok.” At some level, the pandemic ripped open these norms and expectations and the data doesn’t lie…our children are in trouble.

Things are not ok and these very institutions have betrayed (intentionally or not) the sacred trust that should exist to help protect the family and children even if it means calling out the very unhealthy behaviors that probably should be addressed in families. I know many teachers and school personnel that feel absolutely helpless in dealing with many of the behavioral issues and challenges in schools either by their own policies and/or what is tolerated for fear of reprisal and threats by parents. It’s not healthy on any level.

The Role of the Church

As I process what is happening culturally, what role does faith and the church play in all of this? Is this another institution that has missed the mark? I often hear the following sentiment from parents whose children are no longer in their homes and who have “walked away from the faith” yet attended church most of their lives and wrestle with regret about not being a better parent to their children: “I just wish I knew sooner what they needed from me.”

Well, why didn’t they know sooner?

It’s because their primary and life-giving role is not elevated within the walls and programs of the church. It’s a secondary or tertiary intervention at best to help parents when it should be a primary role of the church to equip and inspire families to thrive and flourish.

On a regular basis, parents need to be reminded from the pulpit that they are their child’s number one pastor and then offer and design innovative ways to help them do that. Church Programming such as Sunday School, Youth Group, Retreats and Camps, and many other programs are meant to support the role of the parent, not replace.

Somewhere along the line, we have bought into the idea that a youth leader is better suited to teach our children about Jesus than parents are. We let them handle it – after all, they’re “cooler” than us. They understand scripture, have a better understanding of the pressures teens face, and probably have some training on how to make a better impact on their lives.  Most youth leaders I know play a huge role in teens’ lives and in most cases the previous descriptions are true (cool, relevant, and can teach the Bible).

But that doesn’t mean I outsource my child’s faith.

I hope you do not hear criticism of the amazing work we are doing in our churches, that being said, we can no longer pay lip service once a year to a child’s dedication of the important role parents play and then never mention it again.

How is Faith Actually Transmitted?

Research (i.e. Families and Faith, Vern Bengtson) and scriptures (i.e. Deuteronomy 6) instruct us that parents play the most important role in faith transmission. As Christian Smith (professor and author, “Souls in Transition”) has stated about the role parents play, “Parents are their child’s number one pastor.” I don’t believe that is hyperbole.

We are failing children because we are not respecting the design God has created in the way faith is transmitted.

If my main role as a man (husband and father) in my house is to be pastoral in my home, how would that change and influence my everyday life? I would suggest that being pastoral is not optional. It’s a part of the design. As a dad, whether I am present or not, I am passing some sort of “faith” tradition down to my children. They will then live their lives accepting or rejecting the truth which I have modeled and taught them by the way I have lived and loved them. Do I lead with a Gospel centered worldview or a postmodern worldview?

The truth is we are impressing something onto our children. If not us, someone is waiting to impress something onto them.

There is no substitute for the direct investment a parent has on their children. As many scholars and researchers will tell you, no one can replace or even come close to the impact a parent has on the faith of their children. Our faith is something we cannot outsource to someone who has them for one to two hours a week. We need to find partners in youth leaders and in the church to help reinforce a strong faith, but their key role is to come alongside to support.  It is my job as a parent to find key adults and communities to speak truth, love, and grace into their lives, and trust me…most youth leaders want to see you involved.

Final Thoughts

This is a complex subject and at some level, I have not given it justice. Working as the CEO for a faith-based child placing agency (foster care and prisons) where we stand in the gap between many of the institutions I described above, I see every day how we are failing children. Every day I am tired of the poor outcomes despite the many amazing individuals who work in these fields working desperately for better outcomes for kids. The truth is… it starts with these very institutions to stop playing the hero… and focus their strategies and programming around inspiring and equipping moms and dads in their families with the tools and truth that actually lead to better outcomes in them and in their children AND ultimately point to the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus (who is the ultimate “hero” of this story). There is no way around this truth. There is no way around its created design.

Look for post #2 on this topic as I go further into defining a critical aspect of faith and how faith is transmitted.

Ministry, Roy Baldwin

Fragile

When you hear that word what comes to mind? Webster Dictionary defines fragile as: “easily broken or damaged; delicate; not strong.” We quickly assign this word to things like glass or fine china.

Some of us might describe our hearts and lives as fragile. Our hearts can be as easily broken by a hurtful word as a glass is when dropped onto the kitchen floor.

Have you ever experienced a broken promise? Our promises can also be seen as fragile.

How about your family? Have you ever noticed how fragile our families are, how quickly the family “boat” if not cared for can quickly take on water and sink?

How about your mission or calling? Have you ever thought about the things you aspire to be as being fragile?

God has been reminding me recently in both positive and not so positive ways of how fragile our dreams and callings are and how we need to handle them with care.

WHAT’S YOUR MISSION?

A few years ago I noticed a piece of paper lying on my office floor. Now, if you ever saw my office you would not be surprised that I had papers on my floor. But this piece of paper looked old. It was folded and creased and had a tinge of yellow around it.

I picked it up and turned it over. At the top it said, “Personal Mission Statement.” My heart warmed as I saw it. It was over 20 years old and must have fallen out of one of my boxes I still had yet to unpack.

I kept reading.

At the top of the paper it had a scripture verse and a quote “Never choose to be a worker, but once God has placed His call upon you, woe be to you if you turn aside….to the right or the left…” (Deuteronomy 28:14) and “He will do with you what He never did before His call came to you, and He will do with you what He is not doing with other people. Let Him have His way.” – Oswald Chambers

I then had a list of my priorities in order: my relationship with Christ; my relationship with my wife; my relationship with my kids; etc.

Now, it has been a long time since I saw that piece of paper. As I read my thoughts, I realized how fragile life is. I was also reminded of how far I still needed to grow as a follower of Christ, as a husband to my wife, and as a father to my children.

OUR CALLING IS FRAGILE

If I asked you to state your calling in life, could you do it? Would that statement line up with the choices and decisions you are making each day? Why or why not?

As a follower of Christ we might be quick to say, “My calling is to tell others about Jesus and to love God and love others,” and you would be correct in that answer. Each of us has been given that as a part of our calling. The problem with that approach is that we forget our mission and calling are as unique as our fingerprints.

Your mission in life is to be found faithful to the personalized calling God has given you. You live that out each and every day by the way you work, live, love, and lead. The secret to being found faithful to your calling is what Oswald Chambers writes: “Let Him have his way.” Fully surrendered.

A fully surrendered life is your calling and mission and as you live that out His story is brought to life in your story.

While I was at Focus on the Family (2009-2014) I helped dream and launch the Dad Matters Blog along with a couple of other key staff. It was very near and dear to my heart. It was one of those things that I hoped would live way beyond me. It was legacy thing for me. Focus on the Family decided to end the blog after I left in 2014, after two years of dads sharing their reflections and most intimate moments as fathers, husbands, and sons.

To be honest, I was devastated. I was hit with the fact that my dreams and longings are quite fragile. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of fathers and affirm them in their God-given role. I wanted the blog to far outlive my life.

This is the challenge we are faced with daily. Am I OK with what God determines with my efforts? Am I good with the fact that I practice and compete to win the prize that God has called me to run and then trust him with the results of those efforts regardless of whether it lasts two years or 40?

In his book, Victorious Christian Living, Alan Redpath writes:

Therefore, in relation to any duties which you would undertake for God, I want to say very earnestly that the supreme question is not, “Are we qualified?” but “Are we called?” Are you grasping for position, or are you called of God? Answer that to the Lord, in His presence. Nothing is more important in your life than the answer to that question.