The church's role is to nurture, encourage and equip parents to train and disciple their own child. This was the main theme of my article in the summer edition of the ChinaSource journal titled, "As the Family Goes, So Goes the Church." The local church has the responsibility to engage and equip parents to be spiritual leaders of their child. God's Word teaches that parents have the primary responsibility to disciple their childnot the church or the school. Parents have become distracted by the self-imposed pressure to help their child excel intellectually and are not giving as much attention to mentoring their child to know, love and serve God. Church leaders in China must reclaim their responsibility to nurture the spiritual life of parents so that they, in turn, can train their own child spiritually.
During the last few years, there has been a growing realization in the church around the world of the need to develop far more effective ministries with children and youth. Leaders recognize that they have not given proper attention to targeting this demographic group. In response, there has been an increasing realization in China of the need to "rethink" the way we mentor and disciple children.
Basically, there are three approaches that families can take in the spiritual development of children:
The "Outsourcing" Approach
Drop off your kids at our door (school, church, community center) for all your academic, athletic and spiritual training needs. We have teachers, coaches, tutors and curriculum so that you (parents) don't need to take your time. We are the professionals and we know what is best to teach and train your child.
The term "outsourcing" involves contracting out a functioncommonly one previously performed in-houseto an external provider. In the "child development world," we have done a fair bit of outsourcing. This approach has worked very well in helping our children learn about analytic geometry, algebraic formulas and the reduction reaction in a chemistry experiment. Children and youth do need "experts" in certain academic areas. However, in the area of spiritual training and discipleship, we may have adopted this method without thinking through all the implications and impact on children.
Too many Christian parents have abdicated their responsibility to the local church and school. This way of thinking has created a perception that church workers are the experts in training children spiritually and parents feel inadequate. The natural outcome of this approach is that parents feel they have fulfilled their responsibility for spiritual training by delegating it to the church. We have learned from research that parents are two to three times more influential in passing on faith to their children than any church program.
The "Compartmentalized" Approach
Use this devotion and DVD one night a week during a "family night" to teach your child Bible stories and godly principles. Your child will be entertained and you have a tool to help train your child to love and serve God.
This approach will help ensure that your family is taking time out to have some fun and read God's Word together. The way it works is for the church to help their families identify resource books and other tools for them to have a "family night." Dad and mom may lead a game, read a passage from the Bible and pray together. This is a very good part of family discipleship. Dads and moms who set aside a specific time to pray and read God's Word are taking great steps in growing faith in their child.
Another way that spiritual development is compartmentalized for children and youth is through typical church programming. Youth leaders take care of the youth during a midweek evening where games, food and a short teaching are offered. On Sunday mornings, children's leaders teach children Bible lessons and send them out the door with very little connection with a parent. As a result, parents of youth and children have no idea what has been taught during the youth group or Sunday school time and therefore cannot incorporate truth into everyday life.
God's plan for one day a week to be a Sabbath was not a plan for compartmentalization of worship. It was a plan for an intentional focus on one day to help us worship as a lifestyle for the rest of the week. Daily quiet times and regular family times are intentionally focused activities each day to help us live the rest of the day devoted to God. So these focused times of spiritual growth are ways to bring us into a lifestyle of worshipping and serving God and others.
This approach may be helpful as parents begin to realize their responsibility to train their children in the faith. However, this method does have significant weaknesses:
- The spiritual training is not done within the context of everyday life so the child will begin to compartmentalize his own spiritual life. A young person may begin to believe that his spiritual life is what is done at church, Sunday school and youth group and not bring his faith into the classroom or into conversations with his friends.
- Parents still rely on the church for the bulk of their child's spiritual training.
- As well intended as the family resource tools are, they are not contextualized to the individualized needs of each child.
Churches and families who use the "compartmentalized" approach do have a vision for the spiritual discipleship of children and youth. If, however, this is the only approach used, a holistic Christian worldview is not developed because the training is divorced from everyday life. Spiritual training becomes just another activity in a child's life and is not integrated into every part of life.
The "Family ConneXions" Approach
Our church will equip you (mom and dad) to train your child to know, love, and serve God. We will nurture your own spiritual life so that you can pass that on to your child, and we will help you develop strategies, methods and tools for you to disciple your own children.
The "Family ConneXions" model is an approach that works well at church and at home. This approach when applied in the home provides a framework that works in every family, regardless of cultural and socio-economic background. ConneXions is a Christ-centered holistic approach that incorporates training so that the disciple will know Christ, live in supportive and accountable community, have integrity (character), learn his calling and develop gifts and knowledge to serve God and others. Developed by Malcolm Webber, Executive Director of LeaderSource, this model is called the "5C Approach." A healthy Christian disciple is growing in all five C'sChrist, community, character, calling and competencies. It is the way Jesus built his "spiritual sons" (the disciples) with a holistic goal in mind (5 C's), and he used a transformational, holistic process of four dynamicsspiritual, relational, experiential and instructional.
In Deuteronomy 6:7, God gives parents a practical guide for the spiritual nurture of their children.
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
This passage tells parents to teach God's truths and then talk about them. Parents ought to have interactive discussions with their child about how to live out these truths. "Teaching" implies a concentrated, intentional time of family Bible study. "Talking" implies more casual discussions of godly principles. The rest of verse seven explains that these "talks" are to take place during the normal activities of the day. Children can benefit most when parents tie real life experiences together with God's viewpoint.
A healthy church can be created through a comprehensive and integrated "Family ConneXions" approach in every program of the church. In short, every ministry of the church equips the family to become Christ-centered, Community-engaged, Character-building, Calling-focused and Competency-driven. The model allows church leaders to look at every ministry of the church through the "Family ConneXions" lens. Leaders of the church challenge men to be spiritual leaders in their homes. Likewise, they challenge older women to mentor younger women to teach their children biblical truths in a relevant way. Youth leaders can partner with parents so that they can be the bridge of biblical truth in all areas of life. Parents could help out during youth group service-oriented activities or become prayer intercessors.
This approach is a lifestyle, not a program. Church leaders mentor parents so that they bring Christ and Christ-like living into the center of every family instead of only developing more programs.
Establishing Lifestyle Family Discipleship
The following are five practical ways that churches can encourage lifestyle family discipleship.
- Nurture: Church leaders can nurture the spiritual life of parents so that they can pass on that spiritual life to their children. As it has been said: "We cannot pass on what we don't have." Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is addressed to parents who are exhorted to love the LORD with all their heart, soul and strength. Parents model love for God to their children.
- Envision: Church leaders can inspire and mobilize parents to realize their responsibility to be the primary spiritual nurturers of their kids. This could be done by the pastor teaching on Sunday mornings, cell groups discussing the importance of spiritual leadership in the home or one-day events to ignite vision for family discipleship.
- Equip: The local church can fulfill the critical role of equipping parents to be what God called them to be. Several examples of churches equipping parents include:
- Vision Retreats where an older couple takes a group of single parents and married couples away for a time to grow spiritually in their own faith walk and to discuss ways to intentionally create opportunities for spiritual growth in their families.
- Instructional Guides on Biblical Truth for parents to teach their children doctrine. Some churches around the world still use a "catechism" which contains a number of important questions about basic Christian doctrine. The local church can help parents teach biblical truth to children in an age-appropriate and engaging way. For example, one pastor with a passion for family discipleship has created a song-version of a catechism in English called "The Story of God and Man."
- Resource: The local church can resource parents with books, DVDS, curriculum, mentors and prayer intercessors. These resources can be adapted by parents so that they fit the needs of each member of the family.
- Partner: The local church can and should partner with parents as they raise their children as spiritual champions. It is in the context of our family relationships and our larger church community where we fully realize what it means to live in Christ.
May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 15:5-6 NLT)