Christian “Tweeners” in the Shifting Story of the Church

“Cats Cradle,” it’s called, a kids game using a piece of string tied together to make figures with your hands.  It’s hard to describe. To (literally) grasp the fun, you have to try it for yourself.

I introduced Cat’s Cradle to my 9 year old daughter recently as she characterized her perplexing experience of recess in the 4th grade.

“We used to imagine things,” she mused, explaining how recess in past years was full of creative recreation, role playing and storytelling. “Now, it’s more complicated. We don’t create as much or make up our own games.” She said, hanging her head slightly. I suggested Cat’s Cradle, “All you need is a string, and you get to imagine the rest!”

They call 4th and 5th graders the “tweeners,” because they’re in-between early childhood and pre-teenage years. The social dynamics seem to shift for most kids at this age. Cliques become more intense, fantasy and imaginary play diminish, crushes sometimes turn into pairing off and of course, academic rigor steps up a few notches.

It’s in this transition that kids need to be reminded of the value of their winsomeness and imaginative capacity. They need new tools, clear permission to follow their hearts and fresh ideas for this unknown stage of life. If nurtured well, this transition can foster the most remarkable creations, instilling a life-long ambition and deep confidence in their own dreams. If neglected, some could lose their spark, grow insecure and spend their lives recovering who they are.

What Church Planters and Tweens Have in Common

In recent years I’ve noticed similar characteristics between the gradeschool “tweeners” and that of church planters, particularly those seeking to innovate fresh, contextual expressions of faith community. The vocation of church planting today puts you in-between categories; a liminal space between who we used to be and where we think the church might be going.

The vocation of church planting today puts you in-between categories; a liminal space between who we used to be and where we think the church might be going. Click To Tweet

For many, we no longer associate with a segment of Christian culture that upholds form over faithfulness, dogma over discipleship, belief over belovedness and “us” over “them.” The forms, structures and skills that dominated the roles of church leadership are no longer compatible with the shifting culture.  We need new tools, clear permission to follow our hearts and a fresh imagination for what’s to come.  

So whether you’re a church planter, a business entrepreneur, community developer, artist, activist or advocate in the Jesus way, how do you thrive as a Christian “tweener” in the shifting story of the Church?

Three Ways to Thrive in the Space In-Between

Reflecting on this Christian transition, John Philip Newell remarks,

We are so deeply immersed in collapse, as well as early stirrings of new birth, that it is difficult to sharply define the characteristics of the new thing that is trying to emerge. But there are some clear intimations of what the rebirthing might look like and there are some modern prophets, both Christian and other faiths, who are clearly pointing the way.

There are signs of life everywhere but sometimes we can be so immersed in collapse that our vision is blurred and confused. So what are Christian tweeners supposed to do as we actively wait in hopeful anticipation of the new life to come? What kind of nurturing do we need in this liminal space?

In our book, To Alter Your World; Partnering with God to Rebirth our Communities, Michael Frost and I narrate the metaphor of becoming midwives to the new world God is birthing among us. In many ways, this feeling of in-betweenness is not unlike the gestation season of carrying a child in the womb. We prepare, we practice, we wait and anticipate and we stay ready for signs of labor. The metaphor is poignant here, not just in labor and delivery of God’s new creation, but also in the months of preparation and pregnancy.

I’d like to lay out a few helpful guides and practical applications for how to attend in the in-between.

Cultivate Hope

Krista Tippett in her book, “Becoming Wise; An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living“ says, “Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a habit that becomes spiritual muscle memory.” In the in-betweens we must practice hope. We must visualize the future, trust in possibilities, envision the change to come and remember the promises of God. Rather than reverting to the past or fearing the future, we can practice a hope that aligns our perspective and keeps us moving forward .

What is one way you can cultivate hope today?

Explore Spiritual Practices

I recently had a sinus infection, the kind that hangs on much longer than you thought possible. When I could finally breathe again, the smell of a single rose captivated my senses one morning, and caught me by surprise. I followed my nose to turn my head and there I saw a whole collection of roses that I otherwise would have missed. In that moment I began to think of other blockages in my life that prevent me from being present and engaged. What else am I missing? So here’s an interesting parallel:  Irrigating your sinuses and relieving the pressure is like practicing spiritual disciplines and exploring pathways of growth. In so doing, we clear out the blockages so we can sense the Spirit in our everyday lives. Only then are we ready to turn our heads, receive and respond, attending to what God is birthing in our world.  

What is a new and unfamiliar spiritual practice you could learn about and try this week?

Ignite  Imagination

It was Albert Einstein who said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Instead of reading the next how-to book, signing up for the next training event, buying the next best toolkit for success, simply live into your most imaginative future. Start by imagining the world as God intends it to be; when all is made right and the new creation is in full bloom. What would peace really look like? What are the sounds of freedom? What does justice feel like for you, for your neighbors, for the most vulnerable of our world? You have permission to imagine possibilities and try things beyond the safe, the known and the calculable. Look to artists, storytellers, inventors, entrepreneurs and pioneers to give you strength and inspiration for your journey ahead.

What do you imagine possible, and what is one thing you can do today to move toward the coming dream of God?

Just like when we were in 4th grade, this season of life is necessary for our development. Embrace it. It is not a season of drudgery but one of awesome opportunity. If nurtured well, this in-between experience can foster the most remarkable creations in all of us, instilling hope, deepening spiritual growth and igniting the imagination crucial for the story we are a part of. And lets continue to remember that it is God who births the future. Our role is to creatively attend, like a midwife. What a marvelous honor. 

The following two tabs change content below.
Christiana Rice


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *