The Essential Role Of The Family In World Evangelization
By Rob Rienow
These are exciting times for followers of Jesus Christ! The Holy Spirit is moving all over the world bringing people to repentance and faith in our risen and reigning Savior. The Spirit is working in places of abundance and in places of persecution. We rejoice when we hear the news of revivals around the world, and we pray for them to spread. But large numbers of conversions and church plants are only the beginning of the spread of the Gospel in a nation. For faith to remain in a land it must be driven not only by Bible-driven churches but also through the multi-generational ministry of the Christian family.
Europe Has Fallen
Five hundred years ago, transformational revivals spread across Europe. Entire nations were reshaped by passionate believers who had returned to the truths of only Scripture, only grace, only faith, only Christ, and all for the glory of God. Churches were planted. Missionaries were sent out. The world has never been the same.
But consider the spiritual state of Europe today. It is estimated that only one to two percent of the population are born again. During my family’s mission trip to France in 2008 we talked with missionaries about the spiritual condition there. They expressed great concern about the rise of Islam in the country and how radical Islamists were filling France simply by having many children and raising them to follow Allah. I asked, "Are the Christian pastors encouraging young believers to pursue godly marriage and raise their children to impact the nation for Christ?" I’ll never forget what they said, "There are very few young believers here to encourage."
How could this have happened? How can an entire continent go from spiritual vitality to spiritual desolation? While many factors were involved, the final answer is simple. The believers in Europe lost the souls of their children, generation after generation. If we do not "make disciples" of our own children and grandchildren spiritual decline is inevitable.
North America Is Falling
The church in North America is following the same tragic path. Since 1900, the percentage of Bible-believing Christians has been in decline.
Evangelism and discipleship are in dire crisis, and it is a generational crisis. We are losing more of our own children to the world than we are winning adult converts to faith in Christ. As a result, the percentage of Bible-believing Christians in the United States is in steady decline.
How could this be happening? This is the age of mega-churches, mega-programming, mega-budgets, mega-conferences, and mega-leadership training. We have Christian books, DVDs, and curriculum for every age group on every subject. Our outreach events, service days, retreats, and short-term mission trips are never ending. We are doing more than ever before, but are we making disciples more than before? I am convinced the answer is no.
When it comes to youth and children’s ministry, we must acknowledge that the "new experiment" has failed. The new experiment is age-segregated, church-building based, evangelism and discipleship of children. Parents drop them off. We split them up by age in different rooms in the building and "disciple" them. In terms of Christian history, this is a brand-new idea.
Slowly but surely, we abandoned the biblical model of family discipleship and delegated the spiritual training of our children to "professionals" at church. I led this model at a large church for over a decade. One of the unintended consequences of my ministry approach which systematically separated children from their parents was that parents were free to remain spiritually passive at home. After all, they were making sure that their son or daughter was involved in a "great youth group."
Our new model is a dramatic departure from the approach of the early church and the Reformation. It was common practice for church leaders in the 1600s to regularly visit the home of each family in the church to assess whether or not the parents were discipling their children through the regular practice of family worship. In 1647, believers in Scotland published the Directory for Family Worship in which they wrote:
"The assembly requires and appoints ministers to make diligent search and inquiry, whether there be among them a family or families which neglect the duty of family worship. If such a family is found, the head of the family is to be admonished privately to amend his fault; and in case of his continuing therein, he is to be gravely and sadly reproved by the session; after which reproof, if he is found still to neglect family worship, let him be, for his obstinacy in such an offense, suspended and debarred from the Lord’s Supper, until he amend."
Family worship was a major issue of church discipline. Why did these churches take it so seriously? Why did they invest so much time going from home to home to encourage and ensure that family worship was taking place? Family worship was a top priority because they were passionate about the Great Commission. They knew God had spoken clearly in the Bible that parents and grandparents were to take the lead in the spiritual training of their children and grandchildren. For them, a church could not be serious about the Great Commission if it was not serious about family worship.
Charles Spurgeon was deeply concerned about the changes which were occurring in Christian culture during the late 19th Century. In his article, "The Kind of Revival We Need," he wrote:
"We deeply want a revival of family religion. The Christian family was the bulwark of godliness in the days of the Puritans, but in these evil times hundreds of families of so-called Christians have no family worship, no restraint upon growing sons, and no wholesome instruction or discipline. How can we hope to see the kingdom of our Lord advance when His own disciples do not teach His gospel to their own children? Oh, Christian men and women, be thorough in what you do and know and teach! Let your families be trained in the fear of God and be yourselves ‘holiness unto the Lord,’ so shall you stand like a rock amid the surging waves of error and ungodliness which rage around us."
Spurgeon’s message is desperately needed today! Godly men and women in growing churches receive the constant call to get involved in "ministry." Often "ministry" is synonymous with "volunteering at a church program." Spurgeon understood that "to see the kingdom of our Lord advance" ministry needed to begin at home.
The Great Commandment
In Matthew 22:35-36 Jesus is confronted with a powerful question. A religious leader asks Him, "What is the most important commandment in the law?" He answered by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." According to Jesus, nothing is more important than knowing God and loving Him. But what are we supposed to do with this command? Where do we start? How will you obey the Great Commandment today? In the next few verses God gives a specific mission for all those who would seek to love Him: "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children" (Deut. 6:6-7a).
Here we find the first task for the faith community in response to the Great Commandment. Those who love God are called first and foremost to do all in their power to lead their children to love Him even more. At the heart of the Great Commandment is family discipleship and parents being the primary spiritual trainers of their children.
But how does this happen? How can I, as a sinful man, pass faith and a love for God to my children? There are no magic formulas, but God gives us a simple starting point in the next verse: "Talk about [these commandments] when you sit at home" (Deut 6:7b).
Where can parents start? By talking! Specifically, God calls parents to bring the family together in the home for what Christians down through history have called "family worship." Family worship is time where the family gathers for prayer, Scripture reading, and spiritual encouragement.
There is a lot of talk in the Western church today about the importance of discipleship small groups. You have heard the buzz lines: "We need to do life together." "Discipleship happens in the context of relationships." "We need to return to authentic community."
God loves discipleship small groups too. He just has another name for them. He calls them families. He wants every person to be born into the ultimate discipleship small group – a Christian family. God created the family to shape our hearts and the hearts of our children with a deep and abiding love for Christ and for His Word.
A Vision for Generational Ministry
In Psalm 78:1-7 we are given a picture of the powerful impact families have in the advance of the kingdom of God: "O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old – what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We 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. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands."
What a marvelous vision! I want to be a father like this. I want to tell my children all about praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, so that they would tell their children who are not even born yet. At the heart of the advance of the Gospel is the call to parents to impress the hearts of their children with a love for God and for His Word.
The Church Launched with a Multi-Generational Vision
The disciples understood that the first action step of the Gospel was to impress the hearts of children with a love for God. In Acts 2, God launches His church, and Peter preaches a magnificent evangelistic sermon. He ends it this way, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:38-39).
You, your kids, and the world! This is the three-fold move of the Gospel which we find cover-to-cover in the Scriptures. We have functionally cut out the top priority of the Christian life, which is to serve, minister to, and make disciples of our own children and family members. As a result, we have many well-intentioned Christian men and women who give their heart and soul to helping lead the programs at church and in the community, and never sit down to read the Scriptures at home with their own children.
I know this sort of Christian very well. It used to be me. I gave my heart and soul to my pastoral ministry at church, and my wife and children got the scraps. I was living an unbiblical, hollow Christian life, while at the same time receiving accolades for my public ministry. I have spoken with many pastors and missionaries over the years who had "discipled" hundreds of people, but they lost the souls of their own children. Some were even told, "Trust your children to the Lord! You need to focus on your ministry." Nowhere in Scripture does God command parents to abdicate the spiritual training to others so that they can "focus on ministry." Instead, God calls His people to begin their Kingdom ministry at home.
The Call to Fathers
God gives His call to fathers in Ephesians 6:4, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." God says that fathers are not to arouse deep anger in the hearts of their children, and He gives them a remedy so that it will not happen. Bring your children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Training refers to spiritual exercise – the spiritual practices of the Christian faith. Fathers are to pray with, serve with, and worship with their kids. Instruction refers to the words that dads speak to their children. The words that fathers and husbands speak in the home about spiritual things have tremendous power!
Are you eager to see men rise up to lead your church with humility, godliness, and sound doctrine? Are you eager to see men rise up to impact their community and world for Christ? Then call them, train them, equip them, and hold them accountable to private prayer and Scripture study and to the leadership of family worship in their homes. If we want to maximize a man’s impact on the world, we must first maximize his impact at home.
Family Discipleship, Pastors, and Elders
A prerequisite for spiritual leadership within the local church is effective spiritual leadership in the home. In the early church, if a man was a father and desired to be a pastor/elder, he needed to demonstrate that he was shepherding his children, before he was allowed to shepherd the greater body: "He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)" (1 Tim. 3:4-5).
When this text refers to managing his own family, it is not referring to paying the bills and mowing the lawn. The context here is one of spiritual leadership. In other words, if a man has not already taken the lead to encourage faith in the hearts of his wife and children, he is not qualified for the office of pastor/elder in the church.
God reiterates this principle even more strongly in Titus 1:6 where we find additional qualifications for men who would seek the office of pastor/elder: "An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient."
In my experience I have heard little teaching on this phrase, "a man whose children believe." Some interpret this to refer only to children at home, so that if a man has adult children who are not following the Lord that would not disqualify him. Regardless of one’s interpretation, this is powerful text that we must take seriously. Why would God say that a man can’t serve as pastor/elder if his children are not believers? I believe it is because if a man has a son or daughter who is not converted, he has all he can do to dedicate himself to prayer and ministry to that son or daughter! His Great Commission calling as a man begins with the souls of the children entrusted to his care.
Is it any wonder that the enemy targets the relationships within the family with such ferocity? It should come as no surprise, since the Scriptures teach that the spiritual life of the family is directly tied to the Great Commission and filling the earth with worshippers of Christ.
– Taken from March-April 2012 issue of Mission Frontiers. Used by permission of the author.