Like a canary in a coal mine.

It seems cruel by today’s standards, but before we had high-tech gas detectors canaries were used to detect deadly gas in mines. Miners would bring the small birds with them when they went into the tunnels to mine coal. The small birds would succumb to deadly gasses before the miners. Therefore, if the canary died, it alerted the miners to a problem so they could respond.  Theses days the phrase “…like a canary in a coal mine” is used to denote a sign that something is wrong.

I’ve been in ministry for 25 years in multiple traditions and congregations. One thing seems to hold true: A lack of children in a church is like a canary in a coal mine. If you look around on Sunday morning and do not see children, it is a sign that something is wrong.

The problem isn’t likely with the children’s ministry (although that is possible).  The problem is more than likely with evangelism and adult discipleship. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but children tend to go where their parents take them. If their parents are going to church, they bring their children. No children = no parents.  No parents = a potential evangelism and discipleship problem.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to invite others into a trusting relationship with Jesus. We are also called to walk with one another into deeper levels of trust and obedience to the teaching of Jesus.  If we are doing this well, there will people of all ages in the church. That includes parents which, by extension includes children.

If you look around your church and don’t see children, there may be a problem.  But don’t run to the children’s ministry department for answers. Rather, look in the mirror. When was the last time you invited another person to trust Jesus with their life? That is a good place to start.

Book Review // Comfort Detox by Erin Straza

Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom From Habits that Bind You is the first book from author Erin Straza.*  Erin’s style is both personal and pastoral. She weaves stories from her life with teaching from the Scriptures in order to encourage others to go “all in” in serving others, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.

Erin’s use of her own experience is a strength of this book. Erin lets the reader inside her own journey of having her heart shredded which led to the primary, and powerful, four-word question that is throughout the book: What am I doing?

The question – What am I doing? –  prompts self-reflection and increased self-awareness which is connected to intentional living. As a Christian, Erin connects intentional living with God’s mission in the world.

Another strength of the book is the Comfort Cleanse work at the end of each chapter. This part of the book moves the reader from the posture of a learner to the posture of a practitioner. Each Comfort Cleanse exercise invites the reader to join Erin on a journey towards living courageously and intentionally in the world?

Please read this book slowly. You will get more out of it if you take some time for self-reflection and to work through the Comfort Cleanse sections.  You may also benefit from reading Comfort Detox with others.

My favorite chapter is chapter five. In chapter five – entitled The Comforter –  Erin talks about the Holy Spirit.  She asks the poignant question, “What difference would it make if you practiced the habit of depending on the comforter?”  Erin is not just encouraging people to deconstruct their lives which are based on seeking personal comfort and avoiding pain. Erin encourages reconstruction, too.  She writes:

With some heart clutter now cleared away, we have room to put on new habits, new behaviors, and new truths rooted in God’s truth. …the sort of comfort we’re familiar with has skewed how we see the real thing. True comfort is foreign, unfamiliar – so much so that we don’t quite know what we’re looking for. (100)

My primary critique involves some of the exegetical work around particular texts. As an Anabaptist, I approach some of the texts in different ways. I believe Erin’s treatment of the texts in the book is consistent with conservative, orthodox, evangelical interpretations. My differences are of degree and emphasis, not truth vs. error.  So I won’t drive us into the weeds with details.

Overall, this is a positive book, rooted in a deep desire to walk faithfully with Jesus in a broken world. It is full of hope and dares to plot a course to a better world. Not a world you watch from the sidelines as you sip your favorite drink. But a world that you participate in as you join with God who is making all things new. This is not an easy path, but one rich with God’s comfort, care and presence.

You can find additional resources here.  You can purchase the book by hitting the picture in this post.


*Disclosure: Erin is my sister-in-law. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for writing a review.