For the last several months of the year just passed we have been giving a good consideration to bringing significant alteration to our whole approach to the spiritual development of our children and youth. We have made good process in this, and will be communicating and implementing the various changes we have arrived at. We will continue looking at these considerations- but we do feel it is time to begin sharing with the whole community where we see ourselves going.
To that end, I am beginning a short series of messages intended to point us in a new direction regarding what we have for many years called ‘Sunday School.’ The idea is not to judge where we have been but to embrace where we believe God is now taking us. And where we believe He is taking us is to a total family involvement in the spiritual development of our children, in which the church is merely one component in a whole mix, and is never designed to take the place of the other elements in that mix.
Toward this end we will be phasing out the term ‘Sunday School’ in favour of the designation ‘Family Ministry.’
As we proceed I will bring a more refined definition of what we are considering. But for this morning I simply want to scatter some considerations among us to serve as a lose introduction to the following messages in this series.
Here is the Theme Scripture which I will present on the overhead each Sunday, and based upon these theme scriptures I am choosing the following as the theme of this series- ‘The Deuteronomy Six Family.’
DT 6:4 “ Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! “ You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons 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 up. “ You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. “ You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
In the very beginning of this I need to express some concerns I am highly sensitive of. First there is a real possibility that some of this may be perceived as being legalistic. All I can tell you is that such is not the intention of my heart at all. I do have some reasonably strong things to say, but please understand that in sharing them I am fully aware that none of it is possible to live save by the ongoing baptism of God’s grace in our hearts. (And besides all that, I absolutely hate legalism.)
Secondly there is a real risk that guilt or condemnation may try to make its way into this. Just remember that God does not bring accusation, condemnation and guilt, so if any of that comes to you it is nothing but the accuser doing the only thing he can- and he is doing it to prevent you from hearing and receiving what the Holy Spirit is speaking.
Thirdly I am sensitive of the fact that in presenting this I create the idea that I have it all right, that I am the perfect father and therefore superior to the rest of you poor failures. I think you know me well enough that if anything, I would tend to place myself on the “incriminating” end of this.
Fourthly, and perhaps what I am most sensitive of, is that we spiral downward in a sense of failure regarding our families and are overcome with hopelessness. Please understand that the whole intention of this presentation is to speak redemptively where there is failure and to bring hope where hope is wearing thin.
Against this background let me begin with a very positive statement- a statement we can all identify with, be encouraged by- a statement designed to hook us at the very beginning of this series of messages. Here it is: ‘Doing family is a messy business.’ How is that for a great start?
Perhaps I should begin with this- Doing human relationships is a messy business; and the first circle of human relationships is the family; the first place your children went was not to school nor to church but home. If you need proof of the family mess reality that proof is expressed in a single verse of scripture regarding the first two siblings of the human family. Gen.4:8 And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Able his brother and killed him.
This is the spiritual genetic pool from which all the sons and daughters of Adam have emerged- and please do not underestimate the continuity of that spiritual reality from generation to generation. And if you doubt that, read the fifth chapter of Romans.
The other great truth we know from the record of the beginnings is that family mess does not thwart the plan and purpose of God. God does not overlook the mess but He does see past it or beyond it. His is a transcendent view- and in that transcendent view He sees redemption and restoration.
On the level of our personal experience redemption begins with the making of a choice. It is not the choice that redeems us; it is the finished work of Christ that redeems us. But the first issue of that redemption is that we are now able to make a choice we had no power to make before the redemptive grace of God worked in our hearts. Take that consideration to these words of Joshua.
JOS 24:15 “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
Let me add the words from the Deuteronomy text to these words of Joshua. DT 6:4 “ Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! “ You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
No matter how we cut this there is a choice to be made. Moreover, we are making that choice everyday of our existence, and living out of that choice whether we are conscious of it or not. That choice is a matter of heart service (which means worship), and the choice is between God and the false gods of the age. And that choice has household implications which are eternal in nature.
The good news in this is that no matter where we have been or where we are in the reality of this thing called family we can make a choice to follow this God wholeheartedly despite whatever choice we may have made yesterday.
The fundamental question I will be dealing with- the issue at the core of this series is- ‘Who is responsible for the spiritual development of my children?’ And the second question is- ‘How do we come together in this community mix to accomplish this?’
Sometime during the mall-madness of this Christmas season, I watched a father and a son walking through the mall; the little guy was perhaps four years old. Everything the father did the little boy copied as best he could, from hands in the pocket, folding of the arms, scratching the nose and whistling (or at least trying to). I found the sight both entertaining and sobering.
As parents we pass things on to our children every day. Three things are happening in this dynamic called family. First our children are watching us. Secondly, in observing us they are learning. Thirdly, in learning they will emulate us. The question is not are we passing things on to our children- rather it is what are we passing on to our children?
As one writer put it: ‘I’m proud to have taught my daughter how to swing a golf club, shoot a basketball, and ride a bike. But I’m not so proud that I’ve taught her how to get frustrated with slow drivers and red lights. And she’s only nine.’
In the lives of our children there will be teachers, coaches, instructors, authority figures and role models. These important people will teach our children how to read and write, how to play musical instruments and sing, how to play sports and a thousand other things- but every teacher, instructor, coach, authority figure and role model will reach a place of maturity where they will understand that without the parental involvement in and reinforcement of what they are teaching, their whole effort is greatly compromised. But far beyond that they will understand that by God’s own design they were never intended to take the place of parent and home.
All that means is that the primary influence in the whole life of a child is its parents.
If we bring this fact back to the issue at the heart of this presentation regarding the spiritual development of our children, we have to conclude that the church does not trump the responsibility nor the influence of the home.
Observe the following quotes. First the words of Martin Luther from his work- ‘The Estate of Marriage, 1522’. ‘Most certainly father and mother are apostles, bishops and priests to their children, for it is they who make them acquainted with the gospel.’
The words of George Barna: ‘When a church- intentionally or not- assumes a family’s responsibilities in the arena of spiritually nurturing children, it fosters an unhealthy dependence upon the church to relieve the family of its Biblical responsibility.’
The words of Marjorie Thompson: ‘For all their specialized training, church professionals realize that if a child is not receiving basic Christian nurture in the home, even the best teachers and curriculum will have minimal impact. Once-a-week exposure simply cannot compete with daily experience where personal formation is concerned.’
I think that if we listen very carefully we will discover that the real cry within our culture is not- ‘Who will train my children?’- but rather it is- ‘Who will train me as a parent so that I can train my children?’ There is a world of difference between these two questions.
I can tell you personally that this is exactly where I am in relation to my daughter. I am not looking for anyone to take my place as her father- in fact I’ll fight anyone who tries. But I am wide open to anything and everything you can impart into me to better equip me as a father.
I have found that one thing I have to be alert to regarding the Christian School settings Darline has been and continues to be in is that very thin line between passing along pertinent information regarding Biblical/religious studies and formulating dogmatic conclusions of doctrinal position of “truth.”. I will jealously protect and insist upon my God ordained responsibility in directing my daughter with respect to Biblical truth- and I will not give that responsibility and privilege away to a teacher in a classroom.
I am going to close this rather painful exercise this morning by referencing one more painful detail. The simple truth is simply this: If I hope to maximize the spiritual development of my daughter’s life, there is a basic, core or fundamental reality I have got to understand and accept. Let me express it in the context of this true story.
His name is David Anderson, and he was leading a workshop called ‘Nurturing Faith of Teenagers.’( a workshop with parents) After carefully outlining the core issues teens face daily in present culture, he asked the parents this question: ‘How many of you wish your teenager had a stronger faith?’ As you might anticipate, pretty much every hand in the room went up. He then responded to their response with these words- “While it is good that everyone desires that our teenagers have a stronger faith, the truth is that what we see in our teenagers’ faith is a mirror image of our own faith. So, the issue is not their faith, but our faith.”
If I am wise this morning- wise enough to acknowledge and accept that this is indeed my core responsibility- rather than shifting this responsibility to the church, the school system or whatever else- and if I am wise enough to humbly turn my heart towards wholeheartedly loving the Lord my God, then I believe the first very critical stride has been made towards a Deuteronomy Six Family- regardless of any measure of failure up to this point.