I can still remember where I was sitting on the Sunday morning when I realized that I could do everything I knew to pass the baton of faith to my children, and they might not choose to follow Christ. I could bring them to church, have consistent family devotions, teach them to read their own Bibles and memorize Scripture, and even, by grace, strive to model a seven-day-per-week brand of Christianity before them, and they could still decide to throw it all aside and choose a godless life.
We’ve all seen this scenario lived out in hundreds of different families, and the statistics confirm those observations. “The Fuller Youth Institute estimates that 50 percent of high school students actively involved in their churches walk away from their faith after graduation.” (9) That’s not just half of all kids, or even just half of the kids in our pews. That’s half of the regular attenders, half of the kids who know where the snack stash is in the nursery, the ones who have a drawer full of t-shirts from youth events!
We can spend a lot of time lamenting this reality and asking ourselves, “How did we get here?” However, a better strategy is to double down on our dependence on God’s power and to admit that the cultural wasteland in which our kids are growing up is going to cost us something! Specifically, we must be intentional about teaching and training our children to live counter-culturally.
Family Discipleship in the Wilderness
Long before I was a parent, I was responsible for the educational program at the church I then called home. I remember feeling the weight of parents’ expectations, the time pressure that comes with knowing we had so few minutes with our learners, and the realization that we had so much to accomplish in laying a firm foundation of faith.
Fast forward a decade and move seventy five miles up the coast of Maine, and I became a parent and eventually took on the same volunteer administrative role in another church. This time, I was even more aware of the need to teach our children well, but with one difference: I had embraced the need for cooperation between home and church in the crucial work of discipleship.
The challenges inherent in effective family discipleship are many, and a Christian education committee of half a dozen members will bring at least that many definitions of “success” to the table. What looks like a thriving program to one family will feel like interference and overreach to another family. For example, we have families in our church who couldn’t survive without a junior church program and others who believe their children are best served by learning the rhythms and routines of worship along with the congregation.
A Family Discipleship Resource
In Teach Your Children Well, Sarah Cowan Johnson offers a step-by-step guide for family discipleship in which the church and the home become co-laborers together and yoke fellows with Jesus Christ–who is actually doing the work and bearing the weight of our kids’ spiritual formation.
She advocates for a model of spiritual training that is both high grace and high challenge. Parents and church leaders who feel stuck and stagnant probably need to push toward more challenge, while those who are too light on grace will feel as if they are living on a hamster wheel and carrying the weight of everyone’s spiritual future on their shoulders.
It turns out that family discipleship is a team sport, for even though research shows “parents are the number one predictor of a child’s spirituality throughout their lives,” (39) church staff have the privilege of coming alongside parents and grandparents as coaches and cheerleaders.
Is family discipleship important to you? Anytime you are tempted to say, “I don’t have time,” try saying, “It’s not a priority,” instead and see how it feels. ~Sarah Cowan Johnson in #TeachYourChildrenWell via @ivpressTweet
Family Discipleship is Important
Accompanied by helpful charts just right for planning and diagrams that communicate and clarify, Teach Your Children Well encourages parents and church leadership to step into their spiritual authority, their “right to make use of God’s power on earth.” (46) Creative ideas for teaching spiritual disciplines get the show on the road as we help our children to identify “God moments,” the burning bushes that pull us into our calling while we’re busily minding our own business.
We communicate value in so many ways:
- Your time with God is important enough to set aside a special meeting place.
- Grown ups are still growing in their walk with God, so I will cultivate habits of holiness, too.
- Let’s share our daily blessings and challenges (“gratefuls and grumbles”) at the dinner table (or at bedtime) so we can be praying for each other.
I am coming away from this book with a renewed awareness of my equipping role as a Christian educator. Parents need to be reassured that they are strategically located in their children’s lives to influence lasting faith. That’s encouraging and empowering!
And I’ve hauled a pile of old flannelgraph materials out of a file drawer for the next visit with my two oldest grandkids. We will study the life of Moses together while they create the scenes themselves on the dining room table. And while I pray for God to light bushes on fire in their path–and that, by grace, they will stop, pay attention, and allow themselves to be changed.
Holding You in the Light,
Pray for God to light bushes on fire in your child’s path– and that, by grace, they will stop, pay attention, and allow themselves to be changed!Tweet
Free Resource: A Seven-Day Challenge!
A Seven Day Challenge of Scripture and Prayer to Pull You Away from the Fringes
I turned 60 this week, and as my birthday gift to you, I’ve created a seven-day challenge intended to draw us away from the fringes. The challenge incorporates daily Scripture and prayer to help you begin moving toward the center of a living and powerful walk with God.
Last winter, I memorized John 15:1-8 and was struck and instructed all over again by the truth of God’s intense longing to be in relationship with me. He wants us! No question about it, but so often we behave as if we don’t want him.
Each day’s brief reading from John 15 is an invitation to abide with Christ, to pull away from the fringes and toward his heart. I’m committed to the truth that women can become confident followers of God and students of his word, and it’s my goal to provide resources to help you along that path. Subscribers receive them automatically, and you can receive your copy by simply entering your email and then clicking on the button below…
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Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.