Monday, March 12, 2007

Cultivating “Family Friendly” Churches And Preparing For “Rain!”

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.”

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jamie,

You hit a grandslam on this article. No you hit it out of the park. The greatest challenge today is not greating more programs for families but rather coming alongside the family to help them live a faith based lifestyle. In doing so, family mem bers will discover faith based patterns for daily living and how that plays out everyday.

Anonymous said...

The basic definition of the fsmily may be changing but the basic responsibility of the church to deal with the needs of its members has not. New approaches and ideas will always be provided, but the the primary place for all training has to be the home, fractured as it may be by the world. The church's challenge wil always be relevancy and adaptability.

Anonymous said...

How does the church address the needs of the fragmented family? What can it do to help the single mom and the others mentioned in your article. Good ideas; where do we go from here?

Bill Wippel said...

Jesus yearns for each of us to have a quiet time with Him. We cannot giveaway to our families the Jesus we know unless we really know Jesus. By this I mean intimate, personal time everyday with Him. Read His Word. Then give Him praise and worship. Then listen for His will in your life. Make it at least 30 minutes daily. Set your alarm for 45 minutes early. Get up before the rest of the family. Make coffee, then do the rest. It is great to have the Church instruct parents how to parent. Being with Christ, alone, for a time everyday will allow you witness to your family as never before. You will have Divine Appointments and words of wisdom that seem to "fallout of your mouth", surprising you that you even said them! The Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit will give you gifts you never imagined you could have. Plus you will have a new joy in your spirit and your day. You will begin to see how God looks at the world. You will see what God prioritizes. The 5,000 ad impressions you get everyday from radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, billboards, busses,taxis and the internet have a much more diminished affect on your life, your habits and your family. Get with Jesus at least once a day. Your loved ones will see and hear the difference Christ makes in your life! They will be drawn to Him through you.

Anonymous said...

A speaker I recently heard pointed out that the last thing God said in the Old Testiment before He was silent for 400 years was that He would send Elijah to "turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I (God) will come and strike the land with a curse." Malachi 4:6

We dad's need to wake up and get involved in our kids' lives. You hit the nail on the head Jamie that a change is needed in our "approach of transferring our faith to the next generation." Bill's comments above are also on point. We as men of God need to draw close to God, to seek Him with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength. If we are going to pass on our faith it must be a faith that is vital to us.

Where do we go from here? How about repentance?

Thanks Jamie. Keep sounding the trumpet.

Mike McConnell said...

This hits home. Brothers and sisters, we need to look no further than the culture our Lord Jesus grew up in. Most of the acts of worship were in the home. Every friday night Joseph would reach out his hand and bless his Son Yeshua, and his other sons and daughters. The strength of the church is going to be determined by the strength of our homes. Bless your wife, cover her in prayer. Cover your children with prayer and blessings. The return you will get makes the return Warren Buffet gets from Wall Street look like a pittance.

K-Y said...

Jamie and fellow dads, one thing I wonder about is the "rate of retention" among kids who go to Christian schools vs public schools. Accounting/normalizing for differences in family factors and among schools, does Christian school make a difference in kids staying with Christ 3,10, 20 years later? If not, then we dads have to step up, can't count on farming it out.
The reason i ask is, when I was a teen, some friends went to Christian schools and they were as much partiers, ineffective for Christ, as any nonbelieving public school kids from nonbelieving families. Was this an anomaly, or are Christian schools indeed not that influential in producing graduates who stay yielded to Christ?
This isn't to diss Christian schools or promote public schools (there are other smaller but not trivial reasons to be wary of public schooling), it's to (1) make necessary changes to them just as Jamie you suggest for the church to minister effectively to these kids, and more importantly (2) remind us dads that it's really up to us, there's no passing the buck to the school.
I'll have to step it up myself. Thanks Jamie for the challenge and reminder to take our job back and to realign the church to support us.