As I write this I am flying home from the annual conference of the National Association of Family Ministries (NAFM) held in Santa Fe, New Mexico this year. Twenty-two of us from around the country met for three days to be encouraged, to gain some resources and to network with each other, all with the sole purpose being to more effectively serve families through the local church.
NAFM isn’t a particularly large or prestigious organization, but I believe it is the beginning of a movement of God that will cross all denominations, a wind of the Spirit that is beginning to blow upon God’s people causing a change in how we all see the church in relationship to the family. George Barna’s research shows that members in the evangelical church are failing to pass on their faith. It seems clear that there needs to be a change of approach in transferring our faith to the next generation.
Christian marriages are continuing to fail at about the same rate as marriages in the culture at large. And Christian children are growing up not feeling any buy-in or loyalty to the church and are leaving when they become young adults.
Why these young adults are not remaining in a faith community to raise their children is clear to many of us who have grown up in “church-centered, family-supporting” churches. The church asks much of families, separates them by age to teach the children and youth instead of investing in the equipping of parents to do the job. Any inter-generational influence is minimalized in the process.
The movement to return churches to being family-centered is a return to the New Testament role of employing pastor/teachers to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” (Ephesians 4:12) “The ministry” clearly begins at home with our own marriages and our own children! Strong families prepare the future generation for what is ahead.
If the local church made marriage training, step-family and single-mom support, fatherhood training, mentoring of moms, and outreach to the fatherless a bigger part of what we did, we would truly become “salt and light” to our culture! (See Isaiah 58 and Matthew 5:13-16) But, no matter what kind of church structure we may be in, as fathers we can influence our local churches to be more family-centered by remembering that the ministry is OURS. It is foolish to rely upon the “professionals” to do what we most effectively can do-spiritually equip our children.
What we have begun to enter is a period of both danger and opportunity. Just as the late 1960’s and early 70’s in the U.S., when there was a time of huge social upheaval. It was also a time of spiritual revival, a time of “rain” when the Spirit of God drew many people into his kingdom, my wife, Cindy, and me among them.
A cultural “rainstorm” is a time of great upheaval, a shaking up of what we have become accustomed to, to usher in something new. It can actually be a blessing to those who are prepared for it, but will destructive to those who are not. Preparation for the coming rain needs to be done now by tilling the soil of the hearts in our own families. We know that rain that falls on hard, shallow or weedy soil only causes erosion, destruction and more weeds. But rain falling upon faithfully tilled, cultivated and seeded soil produces a healthy, reproducing crop.
To be prepared for what is to come we need as fathers to own the spiritual teaching and nurture of our children rather than continue passively delegating it to a church, a Christian school or any other institution.
I write this because I long to see change in the mindset of today’s fathers—starting with myself-because I need to continue to fight my own passivity. By challenging others and allowing myself to be challenged, by God’s grace, I will continue to prepare my family and other families for the coming “rain.”