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As I go through each year, I try to read in a variety of fields (theology, leadership, church, preaching, history, philosophy, apologetics, biography, family, fiction). Books are an important way for me to continue learning and growing as a follower of Christ. Recently, I finished an excellent book on parenting boys: Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, by Stephen James and David Thomas. If you are a parent of boys, I would heartily recommend this book.

It is insightful, humorous, and helpful. At times, I found myself laughing at the hysterical accounts of the wild things boys do (things flushed down the toilet, adventurous activities, becoming superheroes). You’ll have to get the book to enjoy the benefit of those accounts. James and Thomas’ humor and candor provided a healthy framework for truly beneficial insights.

Following are a few parenting principles I gleaned from the reading. While they are centered on my own responsibility being a father to two sons, there is certainly overlap for parenting in general.

What your children see, they will do. Any parent knows that self-control is a difficult virtue in raising children. Sometimes our voice volume goes too high. Sometimes we are quick tempered. Sometimes we veg out of engaging with our family by being addicted to our screens. There’s a funny insurance commercial out now about how young adults are turning into their parents. That is a reality long before adulthood. My boys raise their voice and escalate arguments because that’s what they see/hear me do. Moms and dads, what you model is what they will become.

What you see in your children, what you speak to your children, and what you draw out of your children, they will become. This principle flows out of a section where the authors argue that parents (dads in particular) should see their sons, name their sons, and draw their sons out. Parents, you have enormous power in the lives of your children. How your children see themselves is a direct result of how you see them, what you say about them (naming them), and what you draw out of them. Does your vision for your children reflect unfulfilled dreams in your own life (athletics and success) or unattainable expectations of perfection for your children? If so, then you need to evaluate your words and how attentive you are to who your children should be. Recently, one of my children confessed that he felt the need to be perfect and felt guilty when he wasn’t. Where do you think he got that idea from? Yes, he got his internal need to be perfect from me. And that is not a healthy burden to carry. It is our job as parents to speak truth, encouragement, gospel, and purpose into the lives of our children.

What you value for your children will shape them. If you value grades, then your children will judge their competency by grades. If you value athletics, dance, friends, health, character, relationship with God, those values will shape who they become. Notice I didn’t say they will become your values. Sometimes parents value the wrong things and our children react against our values (shaping a contrarian value system in their own lives). Other times we say we value one thing, but model something different and our children react against our hypocrisy. I’m not saying we need to be perfect as parents, but we do need to be aware of the tension between what we say and what we show. Here are a couple of quotes that reflect this principle:

As parents, we must decide which is more important, material success or character. Too often, parents, educators, and coaches focus on behavior modification with boys and not enough on character development.

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 175.

I make Sam go [to church] because the youth group leaders know things that I don’t. They know what teenagers are looking for, and need–they need adults who have stayed alive and vital, adults they wouldn’t mind growing up to be. And they need total acceptance of who they are, from adults they trust, and to be welcomed in whatever condition life has left them–needy, walled off. They want guides, adults who know how to act like adults but with a kid’s heart. They want people who will sit with them and talk about the big questions, even if they don’t have the answers; adults who won’t correct their feelings or pretend not to be afraid. They are looking for adventure, experience, pilgrimages, and thrills. and then they want a home they can return to, where things are stable and welcoming.

Anne Lamont, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, quoted by James and Thomas, Wild Things, 80-1.

Parents, the value systems you instill (or not) in your children (faith, character, church) will affect them the rest of their lives. If you want your children to follow Christ as young adults and parents in the future, then it is your job to instill those values by model and voice now while they are in your home.

What love and preparation you provide will dramatically influence the emotional and spiritual health of your children. Children are sinners just like everyone else. They’re going to do foolish and sinful things. They do need our correction, discipline, and instruction, but they also need our unconditional love, guidance, and blessing. Following are several more quotes that undergird this principle.

About our boys as teenagers: “You will need to pray often–for wisdom, mercy, and forgiveness–because you will likely say and do a lot of things you will later regret. You’ll also want to pray for your boy’s safety, because he will likely do a lot of things that he will later regret.”

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 68.

Moms, this one’s for you: “A powerful paradox of motherhood is that if you do your job well, your son will leave you completely.”

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 236.

Dads, this one’s for you: “A boy needs a dad who is looking ahead of him, mindful of his tomorrows.”

James and Thomas, Wild Things, 260.

Parents, it’s our job not just to get through today’s trials and difficulties. It’s our job to be mindful of the future of our children. We are to look out for their tomorrows and prepare them to be adults in a difficult world.

This book has been one of the most meaningful and impactful that I’ve read this year. It is worth your time and investment in reading. If you do have sons, the chapter entitled, “Rituals, Ceremonies, and Rites of Passage,” is worth the price of the whole book. Parents, if you have boys, they will become men when you tell them they are men. Creating an individualized rite of passage into manhood is an important part of your role as a parent.

  • Dads, this one is on you. You are the primary voice and example for developing your boys into men. Buy this book. Read about rites of passage and develop one for your son(s).
  • Single moms, don’t lose heart. Pray that God would provide men in your community and church to invest in your boys to model manhood for them.
  • Moms, love your boys. They need your encouragement and inspiration more than you will ever know. I would not be the man I am today without the voice of encouragement and guidance from my mother who is now with Jesus.
  • Church, pray for our families. Our church will only be as strong and healthy as our families.

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

A number of years ago, Wilkesboro Baptist restated our church’s mission. We affirmed publicly that our mission is to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus. This mission statement is essentially Jesus’ commission to his followers in Matthew 28. In affirming this mission, we articulated four specific mission steps for accomplishing this mission: worship, learn, serve, replicate. I’ve written on this subject here on my blogpost on multiple occasions and written a book entitled Commissioned as an explanation for how we as a church will lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus.

Our four mission steps direct our programming and activity decisions and describe a process for helping members to live on mission.

  • To worship means that we gather to celebrate and declare the glory of God and his gospel through song, sermon, and ordinances.
  • To learn means that we join with other believers in Sunday school classes, discipleship groups, and doctrinal studies to deepen our faith in doctrine and devotion.
  • To serve means that each member at WBC is gifted and designed to serve in our church, community, and the world in worshiping God and spreading the gospel.
  • To replicate means that we are to replicate the life of Christ in other believers by inviting them to worship, learn, serve, and follow Christ.

Worshiping, learning, and serving are typical steps or programs in the life of nearly any church. But the church does not merely exist to be active in programs, the church exists to make disciples: to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus. To replicate is to make disciples. Making disciples is the imperative command from Jesus to his followers in Matthew 28:18-20.

Our church can worship, learn, and serve without fulfilling our mission. In order to fulfill our mission, we must replicate the life of Jesus to others. In our context replicating takes place when we invite others into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Here’s an example from our worship step. Just recently one of our high school seniors invited her boyfriend to worship with her at church. He began attending and was convicted about his need for Jesus. We met and talked about his need for salvation, and he committed his life to become a follower of Jesus. That is replicating. Someone was invited to worship with us, and upon hearing the gospel, he became a follower of Jesus.

Here’s an example from our learning step. We recently had a faithful Sunday school class birth (replicate) a new class at church. That new class is already full. In that class are multiple discipleship groups that recently birthed new discipleship groups. When a class births or a discipleship group births, we are replicating opportunities where members can learn to follow Jesus.

Here’s an example from our serving step. Nearly all of our adult Sunday school classes have a co-teacher model. We do this for practical reasons. It is healthier for a class not to have a teacher expected to prepare and teach every week of the year. Co-teaching creates rest for the primary teacher. Also, co-teaching adopts a model where teachers are being replicated within Sunday school classes readying the classes to birth. When we serve together we are helping others to follow Jesus.

These steps have been instrumental in the health and mission at Wilkesboro Baptist. But these steps have left me with a serious question:

If it is healthy for our servants and leaders to replicate in their groups and teams, then how do I as the Senior Pastor model replicating in my calling and ministry?

As a follower of Jesus, I seek to accomplish each of these steps in my Christian walk by inviting others to worship, helping them to learn, and equipping them to serve. But how do I replicate as a pastor?

I believe that having a plurality of elders is the God-ordained means for me to replicate the life of Jesus into others by developing them as pastors and elders. With a plurality of elders, I will have the opportunity to invest in staff and lay elders with the goal of replicating the life of Christ in those who will lead our church. In essence, affirming a plurality of elders at Wilkesboro Baptist Church is the next step in our church’s acceptance of our mission: leading our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus.

As I’ve thought about this, what better way to fulfill our church’s mission than to raise up lay and staff elders within our congregation whose very calling is to lead others to follow Jesus by shepherding them?

Last summer, our staff led a pastor’s forum that included our summer intern and some young men called to pastor. Those forum conversations were encouraging and insightful for all involved. These kinds of forums and leadership conversations are things we can continue for staff and lay elders as well as pastoral interns and other potential elder candidates.

Here are some examples of what replicating leadership could look like:

  • Staff and lay elders (hereafter, just elders) will gather regularly for prayer and spiritual development.
  • Elders will work through leadership decisions together.
  • Elders will be empowered to shepherd the congregation and to make ministry decisions.
  • Ministers, pastors, elders, interns, and potential elders will be invited to read and discuss books on pastoring, theology, leadership, mission, and culture.
  • Elders will be empowered to oversee ministry at Wilkesboro Baptist Church and to invest in the next generation of servants and leaders.
  • Potential elders can be identified, prayed for, and invited to consider serving in leadership positions in the life of the church.
  • Potential elders, pastoral interns, and young ministers may never become staff members at Wilkesboro Baptist, but they can develop a ministry philosophy as well theological fidelity by participating in leadership development at a healthy church.

Here’ s a final anecdote. One of the greatest privileges of my ministry life was serving for fifteen years at Mud Creek Baptist Church. I learned a great deal about ministry, theology, pastoral care, and leadership. While leadership development (replicating) may not have been the intention of my staff ministry position, it was certainly the result. And what I experienced was not unique to me. There are a number of Baptist churches being served by former staff members at Mud Creek. We have been able to take what we learned there and apply to our current ministry situations. Wilkesboro Baptist Church is not a perfect church, but it is a healthy church. Developing a church polity with a plurality of elders is a pathway to developing leaders. Developing leaders may serve WBC, but they may also leave WBC to fulfill a calling to mission and leadership outside of WBC. One obvious example is our former Minister of Communications, Gary Buffaloe. Gary served at WBC for more than 3 years. At the beginning of 2022, Gary left our church staff to plant a new church in Boomer, NC at Camp Harrison. Gary and his team at Warrior Creek Church are fulfilling the mission of leading others to follow Jesus, and WBC got to play a part in kingdom advancement.

A plurality of elders is a vision for replicating leaders for our church as well as for the mission of spreading the gospel to and through other churches and ministries. This model is biblical. Paul replicated the life of Jesus in students like Timothy, Titus, and Luke to serve the purpose of spreading the gospel to the nations.

Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash