Sunday, October 19, 2008

Evangelism... to our families: What the Church has done wrong

How has the church failed us and our children?

First off, lets look at the church’s responsibility regarding families. The church is to be a place where believers meet together to edify one another, and to stir up one another to good works. It is also a time to review the doctrines of God’s Word(preaching and teaching), to praise God together, and the people are called as a whole to complete the great commission. (See Acts 1:8; 2:40-47) How do these roles apply to the family?

First off, I never see anywhere in the Bible that the church is given a special command to take over the teaching of the children from the family. Thus it remains the role of the church to encourage the families in completing their God-given role.

At the same time, it is also the church’s role to encourage the youth and the children to submit to their parents, and to desire to learn from their parents. The pastor can do this by his sermons and members in the congregation by being supportive of the parent’s roles in their life. The church can also assist the parents by being a good example and reinforcing, by their example, the parent’s teaching.

The church’s biggest downfall is its neglect of its God-given responsibilities (caring for the orphans, widows, and needy, which it has now bestowed upon the government) and usurping the role of the family. The church has extended its ministries to the youth and children within the church, and left the orphans and widows behind. It has turned its ministries into church “baby-sitting programs.”

The church desperately tries to separate the family. They have a “program” for everyone from infants to college kids, instead it should be trying to unite the family, strengthen the families, and encourage the children to be under their parent’s authority.

I have to say I really appreciate the “Family Integrated Church" ministry. Their attempt to keep the families together is excellent. The key is to get the parents teaching their own children the things of the Lord. The church is there to support them in that role.

Some parents may consider themselves unprepared, and rather scared by this daunting task set before them. They should! This is an awesome responsibility that the Lord bestows on every parent. The church, though, can be there to encourage the parents. It is also within the boundaries of the church for the members (and/or leadership) to provide advice and council to the parents, as they train their children.

I also believe the church can also contribute through discipleship. This is done on a one-on-one basis. The focus of discipleship is not to teach and train, rather to encourage and exhort. (See 1Tim. 5:1,2) One way to do this would be for the men in the church (lets say 20+) to chose a young man (one 10+ years younger than him) to just befriend, pray for, give those little words of encouragement, and to encourage to submit to his parents. At the same time, you can do this amongst the women in the church as well. This is not to supplant the parent, only to reinforce what the parent has taught.

Turning in another direction, has the church overlooked “Jerusalem”? Isn’t our closest mission field our children? World missions is a great thing, and an important thing. Witnessing to our own city, state, and country is as well, but aren’t our children our first mission field? Think back to the last time you heard a sermon on missions, was the family mentioned at all? Now, don’t go off the deep end here either. A good balance is necessary. Too much focus on your family without also including ministry is just as dangerous. Remember, the key is to maintain that balance!

Evangelism... to our families: Diagnosing the problem in the family; Part 2

Now before you go out and work to destroy any Sunday school program at your church, let me make this clear. There is nothing wrong with Sunday school; it is the mindset of the parents that too often accompanies it. Sunday School can be a great outreach tool, but when Christian parents in the church use it to “get the kids off their hands” or to “have a break from all their questions,” it is being used wrongly. Every church should have a Sunday school program, but its emphasis should be outreach to the unbelievers, not a babysitting program for the believers.

My parents always had us kids in the adult Bible studies and in with them in the church services. Let me tell you, this really meant a lot to me. They had such a desire to teach me themselves, that they would take me with them, and be there to answer my questions as they came up.

Another thing that has been left by the wayside is prayer for our children. How often do you lift these young souls up to the Lord? How often have you prayed to the Lord to keep these little ones from the many spiritual dangers?

Now remember this is not to point fingers, or to accuse anyone. So often we do not even think about why we do these things, and we never even stop to consider our motives.

Again, the focus is not on the outward things, the focus is on the heart motive. Is it wrong for a Christian to send their children to Sunday school? No, but if it is only out of tradition, or to cop out of your parental responsibilities, then it is wrong.

Even in saying this, I still believe that it is far better to teach your children yourself. In saying this, am I advocating doing home church? That is a discussion for another day, but I think the fellowship of meeting with other believers is crucial and should not be overlooked. (See Heb. 10:24-25, and the example of the church in Acts 2:42)

In I Timothy, Paul often advised Timothy to follow his example. How can you follow the example of one you do not spend much time with? Paul tells how Timothy shared in his suffering, and in his joys. Timothy was with Paul, he shadowed Paul, Paul longed to be with Timothy, and when they were separated, out of necessity, Paul still desired to continue teaching and exhorting Timothy (I Tim. 3:14,15; II Tim. 1:3-12). Paul talks about Timothy as “my dear son in the faith.” I think this is an excellent example of how a father/child relationship should be.

Finally, although I think that home schooling is the best way to teach your children, I want to make it clear that even when home schooling you can still be lethargic about teaching your children. You still need to daily consider your motives, and refine your focus. If your only purpose is to keep your kids out of the influences of the public school, you have still missed half of your calling!

How do you view your calling as a parent?

Evangelism... to our families: Diagnosing the problem in the family part 1

Disclaimer: I am not trying to point fingers, blame others, or bad name anyone. Many of the things I will talk about were started for a good purpose, but have been expanded to cover areas they are not meant to. My main desire is to encourage a “gut check.” How do you view your family? As a burden, or as a wonderful opportunity to teach, instruct and train these special souls entrusted to you in the ways of the Lord! Keep in mind the instruction given to parents in Deut. 6 as you read this article.

First, we need to diagnose the problem. Lets start with the family.

I believe the family, not the church, is more at fault here. I think this is a problem with far deeper roots than just one or two generations. This problem has stemmed from a mindset that has grown from the days of the first schools. The issue: a lack of interest to teach their children.

Originally, there was still a general desire to seriously invest in the lives of the children. Historically children were taught at home the skills they would need in life by their parents. When schools were first used in this country, parents were still very involved. The parents were the school board, and they chose, paid, and hired the teachers themselves. Soon apathy set in, and parents weren’t so much concerned about the teaching their children were getting, more they were concerned about the convenience of the teaching. This created a downward spiral.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is still a serious desire in any parent for their child to “get knowledge,” but parents have lost the desire to teach their children themselves. This is by far the most effective teaching. When parents teach their own children, the children will also see what they are taught lived out in the lives of their parents. Remember actions speak louder than words!

This lethargy isn’t just confined to unbelievers. I hear it all to often in the church today, “I can’t wait until little *Jane* goes off to school;” or “Won’t it be so nice when you kids all head off the school so you can have that time to spend by yourself (or …so you will be able to go back to work)?” What does that tell the child?

This mindset quickly transferred over to the spiritual training of the children as well. Sunday schools were started. Churches started taking over the teaching of the Catechism (which was meant by Martin Luther to be a help for fathers in teaching their children, by the way, not to be taught by the church.), and churches started organizing youth groups.

Where were the parents in all of this? Some were involved in these developments, while others stayed home (what does that tell a young person, “you only need to go to church until you are…”). Some dropped the kids off for Sunday school, but they didn’t attend until time for the church service, while others attended a separate study for their age group. How often do you think the parents made a point to teach and train their children at home when they were being so “ably” taught at church?

Next came children’s church. Somehow, it was decided that sitting through a 45 minute sermon was too hard for children. Maybe it was thought that they wouldn’t learn anything, it was too “boring”, or maybe they make too much noise.

Let me set the record straight. I know of a two year-old child who would sit quietly through 2-hour services, even though they were being preached in another language! Was he always perfect? Of course not, but normally he was quiet and well behaved. Did it take some teaching on the parent’s part? Yes many hours of work. The dad would spend time each week at home to “practice” sitting in church. (Now don’t think this child was normally a calm or subdued child, in fact he was very active, almost hyper) Don’t think this comes easily. It takes much work, some children are easier to train than others, but it can be done.

Do children learn in church? As soon as us kids were learning how to draw pictures, and learning how to draw stick men, my dad encouraged us to draw pictures of the message, of some point that really stuck out to us. As I have seen the pictures of my younger brother, I have been amazed at what a young age he was able to pull special messages out of the sermon. I often learned so much from my younger brother’s little “sermon notes.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Evangelism... to our families: Interjection

As you wait for my next post, I urge you to read this great comment left by Mrs. Tonning ("Julie"). May I say that she speaks with far more authority on this matter than I. For the last 19+ years, Mrs Tonning and her husband have been training up their own quiver-full of children to serve the Lord. I was truly blessed to be able to spend a few short hours with the family this last February. It is a real blessing for me to see families like theirs where the children are walking in the truth!

And yes, despite a couple days of being unable to post my second part to this series, (due to a 1000+ word assignment I need to complete) I am still planning on posting it as soon as I can.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Evangelism... to our families: Intro

How many of you know a pastor who was a seemingly great leader, solid in his teaching, and uncompromising in his faith, but he lost some or all of his children? For those of you who can't think of any right away, what about Billy Sunday, the great evangelist? I do not want to discredit the great work this man did, but he lost his children in the process.

This is a serious issue, even to this day. I think this is the most underestimated and least talked about field of missions, and this comes as a detriment to the Christian church. In a 2006 New Your Times article, a statistic was mentioned that current trends show that perhaps 95% of Christian teens will loose their faith by adulthood! That means only 5 % will even be Christians by the time they are raising their own families! Now perhaps this may be a little extreme, but this definitely shows there is a problem.

Gene Edward Veith makes a good observation on his blog. He notes that Amish still somehow maintain an 85% "conversion" rate among their children.

So why is this happening? Why are we loosing our children? How can the Amish, with their simple lifestyle and legalistic restrictions far outdo the Christian church? What is the church doing wrong? Do we need to invent better youth programs? Do we need to cater more to where the youth are going, and try and fit God into more of what the youth are doing?

I want each of you to think about this issue, especially those of you who have your own children you are raising right now. I also want these thoughts I jot down, to cause each of you who are teens yourselves, to take time to consider the direction you are going, and to consider how the things you do now will affect your life latter on.

I would love to hear your input on this issue as well. Feel free to comment!

NOTE: (I will disallow comments on each of the following post until I have reached my conclusion, as I will be dealing with different aspects individually, and I do not want one issue to be blown to far out of proportion without considering the problem and solution as a whole)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mom's heart

Just a quick little request. My Mom has been diagnosed with Chronic atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy. I would appreciate your prayers for us as we deal with the decisions involved, and learn to cope with the new developments! (You can keep up-to-date here)