“Above All Your Name”

28 September 2018

Over time I have noticed a trend in my understanding of Scripture. I can’t figure out what a passage means. It seems odd, or an odd way of saying something. Then one day, I see God do the thing that the passage is talking about, and suddenly it couldn’t be any clearer — it’s exactly the right way of describing what happened.

So Psalm 138 has baffled me for years. What could it possibly mean to say to God, “You have magnified Your word above all Your name”?

Let’s look at the whole first movement of the psalm:

I will praise You with my whole heart;

Before the gods I will sing praises to You.

I will worship toward Your holy temple,

And praise Your name

For Your lovingkindness and Your truth

For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.

In the day when I cried out, You answered me,

And made me bold with strength in my soul.

The speaker is in a foreign land. He sings the praises of Yahweh in front of the demonic powers of that place. Think Daniel, praying toward Jerusalem in Babylon.

So what does it mean in this foreign sojourn that God has magnified His word above His name? I didn’t know until I saw it happen: pagans following the word of God, not out of obedience to Him but because it’s good advice and their lives are better off when they do it. They may have encountered the principle — Sabbath rest, tithing, generosity, what have you — as a word of advice from a friend, or as a principle from inner witness, or whatever. They don’t attribute it to God because they don’t know it came from Him.

Because He has magnified His word above His name. He is willing for people to know what to do without Him getting immediate credit for it. More people know how to live than know that He is the source of direction — that is what it means to have the law written on your heart.

The second half of Psalm 138 says

All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O Yahweh,

When they hear the words of Your mouth.

Yes, they shall sing of the ways of Yahweh,

For Yahweh’s glory is great.

Though Yahweh is on high,

He still regards the lowly;

But He knows the proud from afar.

God will not allow His word to forever remain anonymous. Because He is humble and He loves us, He is willing for people to say, “Wow! That’s a great idea!” and not know, at first, where it came from.

But as it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, so it is the glory of kings to search it out. Kings want to know where the good ideas come from, because where there’s one, often there’s more. As they investigate, they will find Yahweh, because whoever seeks Yahweh (knowingly or not) will find Him. And when they do, they will praise Him.


Triple Triangle

21 September 2018

Christian decision-making can be difficult. It’s simple enough to ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” But the disciples who walked with Him for three years and knew Him best had a hard time predicting what He would do. How are we supposed to do it?

One way of approaching this is to remember who Jesus is: our High Priest, our King, and God’s Prophet during His earthly ministry. There were plenty of priests, kings, and prophets in the Old Testament, but Jesus fulfills all three roles perfectly–and then He calls us to follow Him.

So let’s look at what that might look like…


Suppose Hollywood makes some grandly offensive movie about Jesus. What is our response?

The first question is, “Who am I dealing with: God, God’s people, or the world?” This is a problem in our relationship with the world, so it’s outward-facing.

The second question is, “What would each role do in this situation?” A kingly response is to go to war: boycott the film and the studio, publish scathing op/ed pieces that decry Hollywood’s war on Christianity, and so on (sound familiar?). A prophetic response might look like calling the people involved in the film to repent, which is very different from the angry op/ed piece: one is punishing them for what they did, and the other is offering them a way to get right with God again. A priestly response might be directly approaching the producers of the film and asking how you can bless them and pray for them. Being cursed, we bless, remember? (By the way, there’s a ministry in Hollywood that does exactly that, and they enjoy quite a bit of success.)

The third question is, “Which response are you called to?” Walk with God and see. Different parts of the Body may be called to different things.

The Shape of Ministry

14 September 2018

This is a speech I imagine giving at a seminary chapel. Nobody — for reasons that will become obvious — has invited me to actually give this address, so I’m gonna just publish it as a blog post.

As I look out across this auditorium, I see eager, bright people. I see the makings of a corps of intelligent, upwardly-mobile ministry professionals. And I’m afraid I have some very bad news for you. I have some good news for you too, but unfortunately the bad news has to come first. If you will stick with me through the bad news, then the good news will be — for some of you, at least — profoundly liberating.

So, the bad news. Secure corporate jobs are a thing of the past. It’s a gig economy now, and it really shows no signs of changing anytime soon. What does that have to do with you? Well, the same thing is true in the ministry world, albeit for slightly different reasons. The pool of ministry jobs that pay a decent full-time salary is shrinking. There are tons of bright, motivated, qualified people who — despite papering the country with their resumes — haven’t even gotten so much as a call back in the last year. There’s a bunch more who have done a ton of interviews, but someone always just seems like a slightly better fit.

Some of you — a very few of you — will land good ministry jobs out of school, and stay in that world for your entire careers. I wish you well, and you can probably tune me out now, because the rest of what I have to say won’t really apply to you.

The problem is, most of you who think I just gave you permission to tune me out — you’re wrong. You will spend at least some — and maybe most or all — of your career outside that glorious, enchanted, nigh-mythical land that is paying full-time ministry. So unless you have a crystal ball telling you otherwise, just assume that at some point, what I’m about to say will be relevant to you.

So much for the bad news. Let’s move on to the good news, which is that you don’t need the permission of some paycheck-issuing body to do ministry. I know a bunch of folks in the full-time, fully-paid ministry world, but let me tell you about the other folks I know for a minute.

Gabe started a handful of drop-in youth centers around Denver, and supports himself by working at a brewery. Heather runs a cafe, which she uses as the site for a very fruitful ministry. Dave started a day center for the homeless. He’s also the world’s leading expert on Victorian trade cards — you don’t know what that is, and I’m not going to try to explain it now, but he’s written a half-dozen books on the subject, edited a magazine for the field, and supports himself buying and selling these things on eBay. Bob is a full-time missionary now, but for years he supported his ministry projects by working 10 days a month for a marketing firm. Jenny is an itinerant prayer warrior who splits her time between here and Africa; she supports herself as a massage therapist.

Let me tell you about how this has worked out for me. I got hired out of seminary to teach. I was half-time as an adjunct faculty member, and half-time associate pastor at a local church. After a year, the seminary brought me on full-time. I quit the pastor gig, but then got another, very part-time gig with a little church plant (that turned out to be a counter-cult exit ministry disguised as a church plant, but that’s a story for another time.) I was full-time at the seminary for four years. That was the last time I had a stable, full-time paycheck from ministry — more than 10 years ago now.

You know what? I really liked being a professional geek. But life’s been a lot more interesting since I got dynamited out of that comfortable gig.  Since then, I’ve worked for another seminary part-time, and a couple more churches. I’ve started a nonprofit, done youth work, written Bible curriculum, driven a school bus. Presently, I’m a pastor-at-large ministering in the gaps between churches. I’ve baptized people in the Platte and served communion in shot glasses off the tailgate of my car. I’m also a massage therapist, because pastor-at-large is not the sort of job that comes with a fat paycheck.

Or any paycheck, most of the time.

You may not want this kind of life for yourself. You’re investing in a good education, and why shouldn’t you have a solid career, just like if you went into medicine, finance, education, or some other well-educated profession?

By way of an answer to that, let me tell you about another guy. He was a professional theologian; good education, pretty secure gig, and then he got mugged by spiritual reality. He spent the next 14 years trying to figure out what happened to him. After that, he traveled around sharing with anybody who would listen. Sometimes he planted churches. Sometimes he was fully supported; other times he supported himself while he did the work. He even wrote a few books, but they weren’t really theology books. They were mostly compilations of good pastoral advice to other people who had been mugged by the same spiritual realities, teaching them how to live with what had happened to them. For those of you who haven’t caught on, I’m describing Saint Paul. If he wasn’t too good to support himself, then what makes you so special?

God has a destiny for you, and if you step into it, He will supply what you need. You certainly will have needs, and here are some of them.

  • You need a useful trade. If you have no marketable skills, I advise you to get some, and soon.
  • You need a team. Anything really worth doing is big enough that it won’t be sustainable to tackle it by yourself. And we’re Christians — we’re the image of the Trinity; we’re not meant to do anything alone.
  • You need oversight. It is not healthy to have nobody who can tell you no. You need open-minded, experienced people who believe in what you’re doing — even if they don’t quite understand it — and are willing to help you do it. That last bit is important. Don’t trust people who are not invested in your success to give you directional guidance.
  • You need excellent self-care skills. That means you need a regular sabbath, you need retreat time, you need to clear margin for your relationships, and build a good support network.
  • You need to be able to say no without feeling guilty. The more you divide your time between different places, the more people will feel that it’s reasonable for you to give them just a little more — and you can’t give “just a couple more hours” to 4 different places in the same week.

If this sounds daunting, it is, but remember the examples we’re following. Paul faced some daunting prospects himself: go out into an overwhelmingly pagan world with virtually no support and plant churches. (And be quick, because you’re going to have to skip town before they kill you.) The good news, again, is that you do not need anybody’s permission to have a powerful and fulfilling ministry. If you are willing to go outside the shiny, professional box, it’s a big world out there, and the opportunities really are endless. I wish you well. 

A Cautionary Letter

7 September 2018

The Discernment Committee of the Tribe of Levi
Horus Street
Pithom, Egypt

Aaron ben-Amram
Goshen, Egypt

Dear Mr. ben-Amram,

We thank you for notifying us about the practices in which you and your brother Moses are engaged. In these turbulent times, many people have grown confused about the worship of the Most High. The Discernment Committee exists to educate Israel about the proper worship of the Almighty, and to expose the many pagan practices that have infiltrated the congregation of Israel.

Unfortunately the practices of your brother fall into this category. Upon review of our history, we find no precedent for any of the so-called “revelations” that your brother brings to the table. The God of Abraham spoke to Abraham face to face, as a man speaks to his friend, and to the other patriarchs in dreams. There is no precedent whatsoever for the Almighty speaking out of a burning bush, still less some paranormal bush that was “burning but not consumed,” whatever that means.

Moreover, the “miracles” that your brother brings to validate his “revelations” are the furthest thing from the sort of uplifting and worshipful miracles that might genuinely befit the Most High. These signs your brother brings — turning his hand leprous, turning water into blood—are disturbing, morbid, and frankly just bizarre. And again, there is just no precedent of the Almighty doing such things.

As to the matter of turning sticks into snakes, well…if I might be frank, a Levite of your education ought to know better. You know our troubled history with the serpent, and the very idea of validating some sort of connection with the Almighty by turning your walking stick into the symbol of Satan…well, surely you’re not that tone deaf. This is not the work of the God of Abraham.

Moreover, our research indicates that this snake-stick demonstration is a practice of the Egyptian sorcerers Jannes and Jambres, among other local occultists. These men are worshippers of a variety of false gods, entities that you and I know to be demonic in nature. Surely you can see that participating in such an occult practice opens a wide door to the demonic in your own life, and we would urge you to immediately repent of and renounce your involvement in this grave sin.

If you’ll forgive a personal note here, I knew your late father, may he rest in the bosom of Abraham, and he would be deeply grieved to see his sons carrying on in such a manner. Moses always was a bit impulsive, so perhaps it’s understandable. But for you, Aaron, to get caught up in this…I just don’t know what to say. You and your sister Miriam have always been the sensible ones. May the Most High forgive me for saying so, but I’m honestly glad your father didn’t live to see you getting carried away by Moses’ nonsense. Amram was always rightly proud of you, and this would have just broken his heart.

But recriminations won’t solve anything, and we need to find a way to move forward. I’m afraid the best-case scenario here is that your brother has serious mental health issues. Four decades alone in the desert would be a strain for anyone, and it’s not implausible that his frustrated lifelong desire to be the liberator of Israel finally caused a psychotic break. As awful as it sounds to say so, I sincerely hope this is the case. Our people have always made excellent psychiatrists, and there is some hope that with lengthy therapy, your brother could be delivered from his delusions and return to a somewhat normal life. If indeed they are delusions. I sincerely hope they are, because the alternative is to take your brother’s account at face value.

In that case, some entity known as “I am” spoke to your brother from a burning bush and induced him to perform these morbid and bizarre pagan practices. Given the pagan associations of these practices, we can only conclude that the entity known as “I am” is a demon, and for your own safety, we would urge you to have no further contact with your brother while he is under the influence of this unclean spirit.

We maintain a resource list of mental health professionals and exorcists for concerned families in your unfortunate situation. Please find it enclosed. I urge you to consult with one or more of them regarding next steps for your brother.

We pray that the Almighty’s mercy will cover you and your family during this very difficult time.

Yochanan ben-Zacharias
Communications Director
Discernment Committee of the Tribe of Levi

Leaving Well

31 August 2018

I’ve been a ministry insider my whole life, and in that time, I’ve seen a lot of departures. The ones caused by outside factors (job transfer, moving to be near aging parents, etc.) are relatively easy. The ones caused by differing convictions, firings, the many variations on poorly-disguised firings, and so on…those are much harder. There’s an art to leaving well. Here are some tips:

  • Care for the People
    • “A good man leaves a legacy to his children’s children.” Everything you ever did for anybody in that group will be seen through the lens of how you left. So leave well. You were there to help people; don’t hurt them on your way out the door.
    • Organizations are totally dispensable; they are vehicles that travel a certain distance in time and space, and then fall apart. Don’t feel at all bad about dropping or walking away from an organization.
    • People are another matter. People are eternal, and are of incalculable value. Don’t make the mistake of treating the people as gears in the organizational machine. Treat them as people. (Even when they’re treating you as a cog. Especially then–rebuke the bad by practicing the better.)
    • The above point applies doubly for the ones responsible for the separation. You don’t get to ignore the golden rule, even if they did. Show grace.
  • Tell the Truth
    • You and the other actors involved did what you did. Own your part of it, and let the others own theirs. If they canned you, say so. If they had good reason, admit it. If you think their reasons are nonsense, say that. If they never gave a reason, you can say that too.
    • Firings are frequently disguised as something else. Your pride will tempt you to go along with the pretense; it beats having to admit you were fired. Don’t give in to that temptation.
    • Hide nothing. Gossip thrives on secrecy and the appearance of secrecy. Defuse it with openness. Don’t hide your feelings either. If it’s painful, say so. If you’re kinda relieved, admit it. Don’t lie.
  • Fighting
    • Mostly, don’t. It will be sufficient to tell the truth about why you’re leaving.
    •  For most of us, it’s easier to be angry than sad, so it’s easier to go out fighting than to just go out wounded. Therefore, you will be tempted to find things to fight about on your way out the door.
    • Resist that temptation. It leads to massive collateral damage, and hugely hinders reconciliation. 
    • When you’re looking for a fight, you rarely pick the root issue.  You pick the fight you think you can win — or at least the one where you can do the most damage to your target. There is no surer road to irreconcilable differences than ignoring the real issues to fight about something else. 
    • Read Tale of Three Kings. Don’t be a Saul or an Absalom.
    • Understand that your (soon-to-be-former) organization may actually value and reward Saul/Absalom behavior. Determine ahead of time that you will not accept that from yourself, regardless. Membership in an organization is not worth your soul.
  • Severing Ties
    • You need not be hesitant about cutting ties to the parts of the thing that are no longer your business. “Not my circus, not my monkeys” can be your mantra…internally. Externally, there’s no need to be snarky about it. “I don’t work there anymore; you’d have to ask them” is a good all-purpose response.
    • The more professional the organization, the fewer loose ends you’re likely to have. If you come out of your meeting with HR to find the contents of your desk in a box and security standing by to escort you from the building, then you probably don’t have to worry much about loose ends.
    • In less formal situations, there will often be phone calls later — “Hey, where are the _____?” Or “How did you do _______?” When you get that phone call, don’t be a jerk.
    • That said, those calls can be painful. Try to set it up so you don’t have to deal with that later. Make a list and pass it on to someone responsible, then refer all inquiries to that person. 
  • Changing Relationships
    • Some of your relationships were built entirely on you representing the organization. Those relationships were not actually with you, and they will evaporate or transfer to the new organization representative.
    • You aren’t required to sever all ties, even if they want you to. Personal relationships don’t just evaporate because the organizational relationship has changed or ended. Keep your friendships.
    • You will be surprised at which friendships stay, and which ones evaporate. When a friendship you were counting on evaporates unexpectedly, it’s okay to be hurt — that’s completely natural. But don’t force it, and don’t go to war with the person that hurt you. It’s a waste of effort, and it won’t get you what you want. Take it as data, and move on.
    • The relationships that endure will change, because the rhythms of the relationship have changed. The transition changes when you see each other, in what context, how often, and so on. That will change the relationship, often in unpredictable ways.
  • Learning Lessons
    • Be willing to take a hard look at yourself. How did you contribute to the problem? Did you have a hand in escalating it? Were you seeking occasions for reconciliation, or were you looking for a fight? (Looking for a fight is not automatically wrong; there are things we should fight about. But own what’s yours. If you came in talking like Jeremiah, you shouldn’t be surprised when they treat you like Jeremiah.)
    • In the heat of the moment, we often learn the wrong lessons. Do your best, but when the dust has settled, be willing to revisit what you learned. You’ll often have a more complete picture later.
  • Unintended Consequences
    • Take a long look at what you’re being spared here. In what ways has the separation liberated you?
    • Don’t assume you know what the separation means for the future. Remember, Steve Jobs worked for Apple twice.

Voting on the Wolf

20 August 2018

[EDIT: There’s been some complaint about this “anonymous” article, so let’s set the record straight: my name is Tim Nichols, I live in Englewood, and I wrote this piece. This is my blog, my name is on the About page, and every article on here is written by me, in case anybody was wondering.]

We are children of Abraham by faith; we are called to be a blessing. We like to think that our call to blessing means we can be nice to everybody, all the time, and we’re wrong. That’s just wishing to live in a world that doesn’t exist. It is pretending that you can love sheep and never raise your hand to a wolf. That may be true for a while, but only as long as there aren’t any wolves around. When the wolves come, the shepherds fight. And the people who professed to love sheep, but “don’t want to get involved” as the wolves feast, are revealed for what they are: hypocrites, cowards, sentimentalists addicted to an insipid niceness that’s a poor substitute for love.

In Englewood, Christians stand at that crossroads. The situation will be sharpest for the voters of District 3, but the whole city is deeply affected, and city-wide discussion is appropriate. In late August, the city will mail out ballots asking whether to recall Council Member Laurett Barrentine. The voters of District 3 will have to decide on one of three responses: yes, no, or refuse to answer.

Let’s talk first about refusing to answer. In our democratic republic, all voters are bound by the challenge to civil magistrates to function as “God’s servant for good” (Romans 13:4). When a police officer ignores a bank robber, preferring to “not get involved” in such messy business, we all see this for what it is: willful desertion of his duty. When a matter comes to a vote, voters are in the same position. By God’s good providence, they are involved. (That doesn’t mean abstention is never the right thing to do, but a voter need a reason to abstain, just as he needs a reason to vote yes or no. No one gets to wash their hands, Pilate-like, and pretend that somehow absolves them of responsibility.)

Moving beyond futile attempts to remain loftily above the fray, let’s talk about voting yes or no. The charges against Barrentine are serious and well-founded. She has habitually sowed conflict and division in the city, in order to champion one side against the other for her own private advantage. This is something that God hates (Proverbs 6:19), and Christians are required to oppose it. She has used her position of power to falsely accuse those who help our poorest and most vulnerable citizens–and this while claiming the name of Christ. In that respect she is precisely what the Pharisees were, and Jesus would be at war with her, as He was with them. She has spread gossip and lies about various city employees, accusing them of incompetence, criminal negligence, and conspiracy. It has gotten so bad that a number of valuable employees have sought employment elsewhere. Proverbs tells us exactly what to do about this: cast out the scorner, and the strife will cease.

You can review the evidence for those claims at (www.englewoodrecall.com); I’m not going to rehash it all here. The point for our purposes is that if the claims in the above paragraph are true (and they are), every Christian in District 3 should vote to recall Barrentine, and should do so because they are Christians.

There is simply no Christian way to vote “no” without concluding that the claims are not true, or that there’s insufficient evidence to support them. (Given Barrentine’s talent for deception, a good Christian could mistakenly vote against the recall. I am saying that it would be a mistake, and a pretty serious failure of discernment at that.)

But the point for our purposes today is that a Christian voter has an obligation at this point to review the evidence, and having examined the evidence, to get involved. This is the kind of controversy where Christians should take a very public stand. Let me tell you how I came to that conclusion.

What Would Jesus Do?

“What would Jesus do?” can be a hard question to answer. Jesus regularly surprised everyone, even the disciples who knew Him best and walked with Him for three years. 

Jesus didn’t treat everyone the same; He knew that He had different responsibilities upward, toward God, inward, toward God’s people, and outward, toward the world. He was also called to fulfill three very different roles: priest, king, and prophet. Jesus calls us to follow Him, to live our lives by the patterns He set. Since He’s not fulfilling only one role, there’s never just one answer. In any given situation, there’s a priestly response, a kingly response, and a prophetic response; we have to ask what God is calling us to do in that particular situation.

The priestly response is to bless, despite everything, and that is where we started. My allies and I have been working hard to bless our city for years now, both on our own and in coordination with others who want to help. We now find the people we are pastorally responsible for being injured by a wolf in our midst. At that point, I felt compelled to do something more direct. 

We moved next to a prophetic response. We challenged the lies, gossip, and hypocrisy directly, naming the sins for what they were in multiple city council meetings. That was not fun, and we had to defend the necessity of it to many of our friends and allies, who hadn’t ever seen that side of us before. (Our earlier essay, “Speaking with an Edge: The Biblical Case for Hard Words,” laid out the case for doing what we did there.) Barrentine did not respond well to the rebuke and doubled down on her ugly behavior.

Unfortunately, that makes it necessary for the people of Englewood to recall her. Supporting that recall effort by talking with people, writing, putting out yard signs, and every other way I can–that’s the kingly response. I am doing that, and I am doing it because Jesus requires it of me.

This is not something like a municipal bond issue, where good Christians can legitimately be on either side of the issue. There is no Christian way of approaching this issue that leads to the conclusion “vote to keep the wolf in office.” And if you live in District 3, you can no longer avoid the question except by willfully abdicating.

Household Codes

18 August 2018

I’ve been blessed to share a number of different living arrangements. Like most, I started as a child in a household. During college, I was in a dorm, then shared an apartment with three other guys, and started grad school with a similar arrangement. Later in grad school, I moved into a small apartment attached to a single-family home. I spent several months before I got married renting a bedroom from a couple with grown children. Since marrying Kimberly 15 years ago, it’s just been the two of us. (In case anybody’s wondering, I like the last one best.)

As I’ve put down roots in my community, I have also become an “associate member” of three other households. I don’t spend the night there, but I come and go without knocking and frequently take part in the family life. Two of these households have kids, and recently I’ve been reflecting on what it takes to be a good member of those households–places that are filled with children, but they’re not my children.

As a starting point, here’s a quick comparison and contrast between the roles of child in a family home, a member of a unigenerational household (like a house of grad students, for example) and an adult member of a multi-generational household.

Household Codes Chart

Unigenerational households and multigenerational households operate very differently. Unigenerational households tend to be fairly democratic; multigenerational households can’t be. The tiny barbarians lack the skills and impulse control to function in the world apart from adult support. As a result, there’s a much higher degree of planning and coordination, and a great deal less spontaneity than in a unigenerational household: all the adults can’t leave the house at the same time, food has to be prepared at specific times and in specific ways, the house needs to be quieter at nap times, and so on.

Childcare responsibilities are not equally shared among adult members of a household, for reasons that start with basic biology: women get pregnant, and men can’t breastfeed. Taking one thing with another, responsibilities that involve leaving the house for extended periods of time will fall disproportionately to the father, and responsibilities that can be done at home with children underfoot will fall disproportionately to the mother. (Technology mitigates, but does not eliminate, these effects.) But the sharing extends beyond just the parents. While the parents have primary responsibility for the children, and other adults correspondingly less responsibility (at least in our culture), there are spill-over effects on the other adults who live in the household.

The parents’ greater responsibility means they get—and deserve—a relatively greater precedence; there is a real hierarchy here. Other adult members of the household are expected to plan their use of common resources (cooking, laundry, and bathing facilities, for example) around the needs of the parents and children. This would be grossly unfair in a unigenerational household, but where the welfare of children is at stake, it makes perfect sense. Two quick examples here:

  • When the children are brushing their teeth and making their last trip to the bathroom before bedtime, no adult has equal claim on the toilet. Getting the kids to bed on time is important, and disruptions in the routine tend to balloon out of control quickly. So the routine is maintained, and the adults can hold it.
  • When the small children are down for a nap and that’s the mother’s one opportunity that day to get a shower, nobody’s claim trumps hers. The other adults can shower earlier or later; she can’t.

Which brings us to the subject of how to be a good “associate member” of a household with children. Every household is different, so the particulars will vary a bit, but here are some general principles to work from:

  • Know your strengths. Botching a messy diaper change makes more work for everyone. Know what you bring to the table, and what you’re better off letting someone else take care of.
  • Generate surplus. Food, time and effort, emotional labor, childcare–there are a lot of areas where you can contribute. Bachelors can afford to just break even (not that there’s any future in that, even for them), but adults who live with children cannot; kids are a net drain on the community resources for years, and the adults around them have to make up for that. If you want to live like a bachelor, move in with bachelors. If you’re going to live with a family, live up to the company you’re keeping.
  • Be good with the kids. That will mean different things in different households; make a point of learning what it means to the particular children and parents you’re dealing with.
  • Plan your use of shared resources around the needs of the children and the parents. You have less responsibility and more flexibility; use it.
  • Learn how to provide emotional support to the people around you, including the short barbarians. It might be a pat on the head, a listening ear, help with a frustrating toy, babysitting while Mom gets a shower, or bringing home a bottle of wine for the parents. Pay attention to what they need, and as you’re able, be intentional about adding value to their lives.
  • Short of debilitating injury, don’t put all your needs on the parents. Parents already have their hands full, and the children’s needs will always trump yours. Build your network and find other people to rely on. If you fall down the stairs and shatter your femur, of course the parents will do their best to help you, but even then, the children have to be cared for. Of course friends look after each other’s needs, but friends also understand one another’s obligations; no good friend thinks their own needs trump the children’s.
  • Know when to disappear. You are part of the household at some level, but you are not part of the family, and that matters. There are times the family needs their space, and at those times, the most valuable thing you can do is back off.

Parents, feel free to weigh in here. What am I missing?