We love our specialists and experts. When we have a problem, or something needs to be done, we turn to the experts. Over the last several decades, unfortunately, most American churches have taken this to an extreme when it comes to making disciples.
Several years ago, I asked a team of leaders what they would do if their neighbor knocked on their door one morning and shared that they had just become a Christian. After an uncomfortably long period of silence, one tentatively offered up that they would bring this new convert to church — so that they could begin to hear my preaching. Of course attending worship is an important part of being a disciple, but it was clear to me that the men and women in the room — all of whom had been following Jesus for twenty years or more — believed that disciple-making was best left to the experts.
This trend is even clearer when it comes to making disciples of young people. A recent survey of Christian parents revealed that the majority did not feel comfortable or capable of instructing their own children in the faith. That finding was often true, by the way, even among “core” church members and Children’s Sunday School teachers!
When the people of Israel were preparing to enter into the Promised Land, and God was instructing them on the fundamental ways of living that would enable them to keep the covenant they had entered into with him, he told them:
These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
If faithful parents want to raise faithful children, we must have the same attitude. There are no shortcuts. First, the hearts and minds of moms and dads must be on Jesus and his teaching. We must be spending time with him and his words daily, and not only on Sundays. We must learn to look at, process, and interact with the world through the lens of the Bible’s story.
And then, we must be continually teaching our children the Gospel and living the Good News out by faith. The pairs “when you sit/when you walk” and “when you lie down/when you rise” are not particular opportunities to be teaching, but are Hebraisms meant to include everything in between two opposites. For most of the church history, this was the way new generations of disciples were raised. Parents shared their lives of faith with their children. The idea that we could outsource this to experts, though pervasive today, is in the grand scheme of things a novelty.
This is not to say that youth and children’s ministry “specialists” have no place in the church, or are unimportant. I write to you today as one with many years of “professional” experience in children’s and youth ministry. But these ministries must be added to daily family patterns of discipleship, in the same way that most people live healthy lives by adding occasional visits to medical professionals to daily healthy practices.
Are you sharing your life with your children (or grandchildren, or the young people of your faith community) in a way that demonstrates the effect of the Gospel in daily living? Are you taking advantage of the opportunities life presents in “all you do” to be “diligently” teaching the ways of Jesus to the young people entrusted to you?
Next week: Practical suggestions for family discipleship