Today, the church in China is facing a leader development crisis. There is a crisis of quantity and quality of leaders. Churches should be thinking now about the strategies to call and equip leaders needed to lead churches in 2025 and beyond. Leaders are not built once they hit adulthood. Instead, it is a process that is nurtured from a child's early years on.
Therefore, future leadership within the body of Christ in China is a present-day responsibility of Christian parents with help from the local church. Peter Bensen, Director of the Search Institute, says that "as the family goes, so goes the future of the church. Religious life in the home is more influential than the church."
Parents and families in China today are faced with many challenges. Let's take a look at a Chinese urban family.
Ting Ting just turned five years old in March. Her parents, Zhao Guang and Hu Tao, are in Beijing. Like most children in big cities, she is the only child of this small family. Ting Ting goes to a full time kindergarten at a boarding school where she stays from Monday to Friday. She is only with her parents during the weekend. This is becoming a more common childcare situation for Chinese.
Why do Ting Ting's parents send her to a full-time kindergarten? Her mom says: "Our parents do not live near us. We feel she can get a better education in kindergarten than staying at home. There are two reasons we send her to full time kindergarten. First, we both are very busy at work and come home late in the evening. Second, the kindergarten we like the most is located very far from where we live."
What values are most important to Ting Ting's mom in raising her child? Hu Tao says, "good health, a happy family and a good education."
This story of an urban Chinese family offers a glimpse into the challenges facing families in Chinabusy working parents and the expectations parents have for their children to succeed. In a recent article in Beijing Today, a young woman explained that "Chinese parents do not give their children much choice in what they should study. The most important thing is studying for the examinations. The parents put a lot of pressure on careers that will bring in money the child can use to support the rest of the family."
For Christian parents the challenges become more complex as they have another hope for their childto grow in the knowledge of God. Christian parents realize that faith is the greatest life advantage. To be a parent is to have hopes and dreams. Parents want great lives for their children and look for signs of giftedness, high IQ or athletic skill. So, families organize their lives around schedules that will foster higher achievement for their child. However, for Christian parents, there is one dream that far surpasses all othersthat their children be gifted in faith.
Psalm 78 says:
1O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.
2I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old
3what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.
4We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.
5He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children,
6so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
7Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
In this Psalm we see that God commanded that the stories of his mighty acts in Israel's history and his laws be passed on from parents to children. This shows the purpose and importance of Christ-centered, biblical teaching in the hometo help each generation obey God and set their hope on Him. Christian parents are commanded to make Jesus known to their children. Scripture does not give this command to church leaders but to parents. A quick survey of Old Testament verses clearly shows that parents, not the church, have the responsibility to nurture faith in their children.
Genesis 18:19 "For I have chosen [Abraham], so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord."
Deuteronomy 4:10 "Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may teach them to their children."
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 "These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children."
Deuteronomy 32:46 "Command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law."
Joshua 24:15 "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
God's word clearly teaches that the most effective, life transformational context for children is the family. Parents have been given the primary responsibility for building their children. Through proper training in a family, children come to know Christ, inward character and external behaviors are formed, life-skills and relational abilities are developed, and principles of mercy, righteousness, holiness and love are learned (Ephesians 6:4). We need to return the major role of spiritual nurture of children to the familythis is a key paradigm shift. The family is the very best place to grow in Christ. In the family, spiritual life is nurtured, life skills are acquired and ministry occurs within the context of loving and accountable family relationships. In order for children to spiritually mature, they need to watch and follow how their parents or caregivers pray, study God's word and serve others.
A study published in November 2008 by the Search Institute discovered that seventy-six percent of youth believe that their parents are the greatest influencers on their spiritual development. The influence of parents rated higher than the influence of friends, mentors, teachers, worship services and even Sunday school classes. This study was conducted over a three-year period of listening to the voices of youth in 17 countries. There were ten focus groups of youth from China. The study looked deeply into the dynamics and practices in the family that may play a role in the spiritual development of children. It examined both what young people see (modeling) as well as practices that the family does together. The most common response was seeing parents be joyful because of their religious faith (70%), seeing a parent pray or meditate by themselves (70%), talking with parents about their beliefs (65%), and praying with a parent (66%).
So, the next question is if parents are the greatest influencers, then why aren't we taking the opportunity to influence? We know that a large majority of believers rely on their church, rather than their families, to train their children to become spiritually mature. Parents are spending fewer and fewer minutes in a day with their child so the answer is not necessarily more programs for churches to keep families even busier. Churches need to build and train parents to bring Christ and Christlike living into the center of their homes.
The church's role is to nurture, encourage and resource the capacity of parents to train and disciple their own child. The local church needs to find effective ways to engage parents and equip them to fulfill their biblical roles as the spiritual leaders of their children. How? That is the subject of another article. But for now, the important point is to realize that the ministry of the church is to inspire and equip parents to disciple their own child.
The majority of parents in China have no idea how to nurture the spiritual life of their child during the daily activities of their busy lives. However, there is a movement building in the church around the world to reclaim families through the church. Leaders are beginning to realize that equipping families to bring the love of Jesus into every area of their livesat home, at meals, walking in the park, at schoolwill bear fruit in the church. Churches will be healthy when families are healthy. The next generation of leaders will have a firm foundation with Christ at the center.
Image credit: Family Drive by Christopher, on Flickr