The Dump

I always thought it was funny a huge church that spent millions on the “guest experience,” and tens of millions on a state-of-the-art facility with Disney quality environments and Chick-Fil-A quality hospitality had a room called The Dump.


Until I didn’t think it was funny anymore.


Sunday after Sunday, I dropped off and picked up my young from The Dump, where everyone was having fun, and nothing mattered anymore.


When we first came on staff our kids were too little for this area, so I didn’t even see it until a few months in. “The Dump” was where your kids went if you came early to serve or were late to pick up.


As staffers our kids were always early, and we were always late. They started every Sunday there and ended every Sunday there.


It was just a holding area really, bare but it wasn’t at all shabby. It had the same planned out cityscape on the outside walls with a friendly dump truck driving down a dirt road to the door. It had the same high-quality look and feel as the other rooms, minus the sign at the door with just mailbox stickers D-U-M-P. That was the only thing that seemed out of place.


Ironically, The Dump wasn’t an afterthought at all. I asked once. It was on purpose, part of our master planned cartoonish “community.”


I thought the name was an ironic and amusing, though a poorly thought-out oddity. But it was perfectly fine.


Every Sunday, I would find mine and a few other lingerers and long sufferers at The Dump circling around the room or hanging out. Always smiling but never doing anything, a handful of kids in an empty room with an adult at the door to prevent escapees.


It wasn’t ideal but it was never bad. It was never unsafe, the adults serving were always friendly, there was no negative. I was too busy, my hands were too full, and traversing our large campus every week made it impossible to be anything but glad we had such a room.


I was juggling life, church, teaching adult Bible studies, writing some, and the increasing pressure elementary school was bringing to our tribe.


Children’s ministry was one of the safe places in our lives that didn’t require our critical eye or more bandwidth than we had to give. And I was grateful for it. I was living in a world that was all my monkeys, all my circus, all the time… I was glad I could just show up at The Dump and pick up my smiling primates.


But things changed in first and second grade in ways I wasn’t ready for. As an educator, I was fully prepared for the transition from home to Kinder. And I was even forward thinking enough to be anticipating the sometimes rocky transition into third that standardized testing could bring.


What I was not prepared for was the urgency and upheaval that came with seeing the realities of the world rightly and seeing the vulnerabilities of my children in that world clearly. Glaringly.


The minute your kids are repeating things they have heard at school at home, or repeating what was said at home at school, you know things have changed. The bubble has been breached.


I was doing book launches on occasion and had the opportunity to help read and share Nabeel Qureshi’s book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. It was truly transformative, both in his graceful apologetic and the opportunity it provided to see behind the veil of Islam. As a teacher, I found myself so thoroughly impressed with the intentionality and rigor the Muslim faith had for training their young.


Their praxis was methodical, measurable, and superior in every way to our Southern Baptist model. As an educator, I was impressed. But as a parent, I was scared to death. We lived in what was one of the most diverse zip codes in the entire country, something that was always seen as a positive, until I was looking around at all the sweet faces of children and neighbors and realizing my children were not equipped to handle or articulate their beliefs in any of the same ways Muslim children were. Much less be prepared to share the Good News with others.


And friend, you got to share the Gospel. A lovely and long relationship that never asks the big questions or gives the big answers was wasted. Just ask Lot and his son-in-laws. Or me.


In fact, if Nabeel’s upbringing was the norm and I believed it was, my children’s faith could be dismantled in about five minutes on a playground for sport by any number of friends.


And we were those who “knew” all the stuff, those who lived at church! I would have put my husband and I squarely in the intentional disciple maker category until that very year, when I realized we were mostly making friends, making memories, and making crafts at church but disciples we were not.


May I make a recommendation at this point and encourage you to never ask the Lord for His eyes to see unless you are prepared to use your hands to work on what He shows you? Having one without the other will only find you frustrated, disappointed, and dissatisfied. Which isn’t necessarily a terrible thing if you have the luxury to look for a new church. But if you, like us, are local church lifers, this is not how ministry works. You go where the Lord calls you and that church may or may not check all the boxes on your list of desired amenities.


My husband and I both feel called to ministry. We both want to serve the Body until we simply can’t. We dated to that end, married to that end, parent to that end, and minister to that end. Our goal is to be found faithful and worn out, having spent it all for His glory. Accomplishing that goal means a guarded marriage, guarded finances, guarded family, ministries, hearts, minds—and attitudes.


In our world, there is no such thing as church shopping. So, seeing anything in a church—and friend, we have seen some things—doesn’t scare us off, it usually draws us in to roll up our sleeves and be a part of what can be changed or roll out the prayer mat and abide on our knees in what can’t.


But “the work of the evangelist” does not include rolling down the shades and ignoring trouble. We are committed. All in on Day 1. All in until the last day.


As I foolishly prayed the Lord would give me eyes to see my kids and the world rightly so that I could help them have a faith that would stand, I found the Lord showing me things I did not want to see, and things I did not want to change. But everything was now on the chopping block. Ways we did things at home, heart habits, how we related to our kids and others, how we prioritized time, fun, etc.


There is nothing safe or sacred for those willing to ask, “Why are we doing what we are doing?” or “Is there a better way?” So, best not to!

Lest you find yourself explaining to family and friends why Christmas and birthdays look differently at your house. Or why you’re moving. Curiosity can be personally, professionally, and socially limiting. But spiritually, it is a the most worthwhile questioning you’ll ever do.


But it almost killed me, y’all. You start asking those questions in a church and you will encounter the enemy immediately. He likes locked doors, bad habits, wasted time, white noise, old closets, beloved traditions, unquestioned kingdoms, and sacred cows.


And he likes shiny new distractions just as much. He likes anything that lulls, soothes, busies, or comforts us out of passion and devotion. The enemy loves anything that dampens urgency for others or a dependency on God. And I kid you not, sometimes he uses actual “water days” to achieve it.


He guides us as we drift along on life’s lazy river, careful to avoid anything that might stir, waken, or summon a sense of urgency or obedience in our spirit. “Shhh, shhh…” he whispers as he pats our sleepy heads. “Don’t bother with that, let others … it’s fine.”


You see one thing and then another. You don’t know what to do so you pray more. You pray more and then you see more. You see more and then you cry more, pray more.


And then you find your hand raising to volunteer or picking up the phone to ask questions, but these weren’t questions for just our church, the questions I had were for The Church. Every Church.


In fact, I think the people on staff at our church had the exact same questions.

  • “How can we get involved?”
  • “What are our guiding principles?”
  • “Why are kids leaving the church in record numbers?”
  • “Why are the “church kids” not anymore prepared for life or trials?”
  • “Why are we seeing the same numbers for depression, defeat, and discouragement inside the church?”
  • “Why are young adults who’ve been in church their whole lives unprepared to serve or lead in church or in their homes?”
  • “Why do we expect so little of our volunteers?”
  • “Why don’t we have more volunteers if we have made it so easy to serve?”
  • “Why don’t we ask for help if we need it instead of paying people?”
  • “How do kids who are at church more know less about the Bible?”
  • “If we only have one hour, one time a week, why do we start ten minutes late and end ten minutes early?”
  • “Why do we have a game rotation and snack rotation, but only twenty minutes for reading the Bible?”
  • “Why are we doing it this way if it doesn’t really seem to be working?”


Hey, Y’all—Why do we have a room called The Dump where we have the unique opportunity to do more in that extra time, but we do less?


The more questions I had, the more The Dump bothered me. It wasn’t inherently bad, pretty benign really. It was just a missed opportunity. And missed opportunities seemed to be the thing the Lord was showing me and convicting me about most. Missed opportunities at breakfast, in the car, with chores…Lord, is there anything I’m not missing? Anything at all that I’m getting right?


Wisdom and discernment are not usually the “eyes to see” that can be provided through optional readers or disposable lenses. They are the paradigm shifts that come with scalpels, like Lasik’s or having cataract surgery. Once done, cannot be undone. Once seen, cannot be unseen. Once the slit has been made and the film/scales removed from the eyes there is a clarity and brightness that makes you wish for the fog that was, long for the days when you didn’t see or know and thus didn’t feel burdened.


There were two unavoidable truths I was seeing around me in the Church.

First, everything we know about how to best teach academic subjects in a school setting (and for the record, Special Ed. here—I know full well the ways we are teaching in most schools is not optimal either. I mean best teaching practices, period) are not at all the ways we teach Scripture or eternal subjects or at church. Everything that we know about best ways to learn has not factored into church at all, for kids or adults.


The second revelation was that I had to get my act together at home. I felt totally inadequate, and time was running out.


I had no idea how the apologetics and study skills I had been honing for adults could be translated for children. I had no idea how to be meatier with my kids, or help them be critical thinkers about Scripture but I knew that was what was needed.


I started looking to see what curriculums were available or what other people were doing and found virtually the same things in other places.


We are entertaining kids but not equipping them for life. We are offering experience rich programming, but content and relationship poor planning.


Somewhere along the way we traded firm foundations for fun foundations.

But it wasn’t fun enough to keep kids coming. Sunday’s had pep but lacked power.


How could we be handling God’s word rightly if we were

  • never building on anything concrete
  • never scaffolding instruction, or stringing together chunks of information to make connections
  • never giving context
  • never teaching to accountability
  • never trying to remember or retain from year to year
  • never making goals or objectives
  • never demonstrating understanding
  • never creating or producing with what we learned at church
  • never transferring what we learned from inside church to the outside world
  • never equipping or expecting parents to partner in discipleship at home


And in Muslim families, or any other orthodox religion, children the same age as mine had whole chapters memorized, could defend the main tenets of their faith, and answer questions about their prophet’s sordid life and history.


It would have never even occurred to me have such high expectations. A faith afire seemed like something reserved for grown-ups. And paths for discipleship were always given in the context of adults.

But why? There’s no start date for maturity or expiration date for childhood.


Samuel was hearing the voice of the Lord at a young age. I wonder if his temple had jump houses.


I asked the Lord to help me see so I could help my children to have vibrant and enduring faith, not for the sake of knowledge that was commendable, but a faith that was defendable.


As intentional as I thought I was, I was sending my lambs into the world and to the slaughter armed with little more than happy hearts, a drawer full of church T-shirts, and popsicle crafts that were usually tossed before we got to the parking lot.


Everywhere I looked I saw churches full of children like mine—sweet, well-behaved, frequent attenders—who did not know God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Word, or their true worth or identity in Christ well enough to articulate it.


At least not in the ways they would need to, to survive the confusion and chaos we are now living in. How many like mine would be devoured by life?


The extremely agile and adept at handling a lie will always undo those who are unsure and uncertain of the truth. (Well hellooo, gender ideology!)


I grieved and prayed; prayed and grieved the world we were living in and the inadequacy I felt in light of it. I prayed He would point me to a great book, class, person, or resource.


Every day I was growing anxious and impatient waiting on whomever the Lord was going to call to step up, or be called to come on staff.

I was so very glad this wasn’t mine to figure out.


But I was also becoming increasingly uneasy cruising and staying in my own lane.


And I tell you what—I was becoming altogether intolerant of The Dump. I could feel a “failed to hold my tongue,” or a “friend, hold my proverbial beer” moment knocking on my door.

Ding dong, Baby.