Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Connecting Church and Home

A conference entitled Connecting Church and Home caught my attention in August of 2010 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. My wife and I registered, intrigued by the conference subject that was so similar to many of our recent stirrings. The weekend of the conference was one of those times when you feel like you have stepped into the river of God, realizing that what He has been doing in your heart is not an isolated work – He has been doing the same thing in the hearts and minds of many other people at the same time. We discovered in Louisville that there is a growing movement out there of church leaders wrestling with the same concerns and questions and trying to do something decisive about it. Leaders frustrated with feeling like slaves to the church system. Weary of spinning so many plates with so few spiritual results. Tired of seeing families fall apart and young adults leave the church. And realizing that our church as we know it does not necessarily equip parents to disciple their families. The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) is considered by the Jews to be the foundational instruction in the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament. Jesus later used the Shema to illustrate life’s most important commandment – loving the Lord (Mark 12:28-29). The context of the Shema – the laboratory for producing persons who love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, and might - is not the church but the home. Parents are instructed in this chapter what to do in order to produce such type of children. The imperative there is that parents must walk closely with the Lord with His Word on their hearts, and they will in turn impress those teachings and words onto the hearts and minds of their children. The family is the bedrock of society. The family was made before any other institution. The family was created before the community of faith – actually the family is the primary faith community! Society will be strong when families are strong. Churches will be strong when families are strong. And churches need to organize in order to strengthen families. Something happened in church culture in America in the first half of the twentieth century. As professionalism increased in the country, people began going to the professionals to meet more and more specific needs. People began looking to professionals in order to educate their children, meet their psychological needs, take care of their bodies, repair their equipment, etc. Likewise in the church a professional mindset took over in many places. Dads and moms began looking to the professionals at church to train their children spiritually. Churches began hiring professionalized ministers for children, youth, and adults. Age-segregated ministries became normative. Generations mingled less and less at church. Ministries became much more focused on meeting the needs of specific age groups. And individuals begin to look at the church through the eyes of selfish, you get it your way, consumerism. Instead of thinking of themselves as a part of a larger whole asking, How can my life and family fit into the fellowship here? They instead ask, What is in it for me? Sadly, one of the worst consequences of this shift was that many parents no longer saw themselves as the primary catalysts for spiritual growth in the lives of their children. Instead of church simply reinforcing what the children already received at home, there was a flip-flop of responsibilities, and families (some) tried to simply reinforce what children received at church. However, the imperative located with the Shema is that the primary place for spiritual growth is the home. All of these realities beg for deep questions . . . How can the church best equip dads and moms to raise their families spiritually? How does the church need to structure in order to best accomplish this goal? At the Connecting Church and Home conference, Tracey and I were overwhelmingly met with many people asking these and similar questions. We heard excellent teaching from spiritual leaders wrestling with how to flesh this out in American culture. How do the church and family work together? How do we carry out the work of the church without neglecting families? How do we strengthen families without ignoring those who are single, without children, etc? I resonated deeply with one seminar led by Brian Haynes, then the associate pastor of Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, and author of the book Shift: what it finally takes to reach families today. Several years ago, Kingsland began wrestling with similar issues. A diagnostic survey by Family Life Today revealed that in spite of a busy mega church, only 17% of their active families had a family devotion led by the parent once a week. This wake-up call began a major evaluation of their entire structure. Haynes began asking questions like, What if the discipleship processes at church and parents’ efforts to lead their children spiritually became one simple, common path? What if the church embraced a strategy to equip parents to be the primary faith influencers, giving them motivation, resources, training opportunities, and most importantly a clear path to walk on? What if the church offered Bible study and events that reinforced the parents’ role? These simple thoughts became the beginning of a strategy designed to help his church and its families “equip the generations one home at a time.” I told Tracey after attending his seminar, I finally have seen a church model-strategy that I believe in.

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