We believe that God has created the church and the family as complimentary institutions—designed to function together and support one another. The church I pastor (Wayside Presbyterian Church) has a desire to be a multigenerational, family supporting, family integrated church—where parents are being affirmed, equipped, and encouraged to fulfill their God-given privilege and responsibility of bringing up their children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). We want to reach the next generation everyday in homes, not just once a week in church.
Whether they realize it or not, children’s directors and youth ministers have been and are currently replacing parents as the primary source of biblical instruction, thus turning the hearts of the children—not to the parents—but to the “professionals” (cf. Mal. 4:6). In turn, parents are abdicating their God-given responsibilities in the home. I actually don’t put the blame on these leaders but on the parents and the overall leadership of the church.
Disclaimer: I believe it is possible and sometimes appropriate to have a children’s and/or youth director in a local church, but with the primary purpose of coming alongside parents to affirm, equip, train, and assist them as they (the parents) raise their children. In some cases, this might be the grandparents.
If we were to simply let the Bible inform and direct our structure of ministry in the church and at home (i.e., sufficiency of Scripture), we wouldn’t come up with much of the age-segregated model that we see so often in the church today, which begs the question: where do you go in the Bible to find justification or any theological foundational principle for modern youth and children’s ministry programs that are separated and disconnected from the primary role of the parents? This would be a difficult task.
And yet, youth/children’s ministries are a multi-million dollar industry (youth degrees, staff, bands, t-shirt companies, camps, sound systems, lights, youth facilities, etc.). The strongest argument for typical modern-day youth and children’s ministries is: I don’t see any reason not to? You will hear philosophical and pragmatic reasons, but you will not hear biblical or theological reasons.
After a student’s graduation from high school or college, at no other time are these children segregated by age. They are suddenly turned out on their own, supposedly with the knowledge of how to interact and respect older generations and model character and biblical maturity to younger generations when they’ve never done that in school or in church before.
Currently, around 75% of youth “involved” in church leave the church by the end of their first year in college. However, recent statistics show that most children are really “already gone” by the time they graduate (cf. Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do To Stop It, 2009). In other words, the issue isn’t simply the preparation for college, but the present discipleship (or lack thereof) they are receiving.
Because we believe that God alone saves and sanctifies his people, we are given the task to faithfully plant and water the gospel (1 Cor. 3:7) through the means of growing in God’s grace (Acts 2:42-47): Word, prayer, sacraments, worship, service, and gospel community. This is why we are focused on faithfulness over success. Focusing on the latter will only lead to either pride or despair, besides it being unbiblical.
What can you do if you are not a parent? Here are some ideas: mentor a younger man or woman. Affirm and encourage parents in their God-given roles. In the pew at church, help younger families, as you are able. Teach them to open their Bibles, learn the songs, etc.
Let me give you six vision distinctives that we’ve adopted in our church on how to practically connect the church and the home.
1. From Scripture, we envision husbands/fathers taking the primary lead in discipling their families in the Lord and using their God-given gift of loving responsibility to invest their lives, their love, and their faith to the next generation. This is done through teaching, family worship, catechism, and overall discipline and instruction. To be sure, the greatest thing our children need is our love for God. Let your love for God inform and shape your love for them.
2. To this end, we envision equipping and affirming men to be servant-leaders in their home—to provide, protect, nourish, and cherish their families.
• “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (cf. Deut. 11:19)
• “We will not hide [God’s Word] from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done…that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God.” – Psalm 78:4-7
• “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6
• “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” – Malachi 4:6
• “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches [i.e., not teaching with authority]. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.” – 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
• “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” – Ephesians 5:28-29
• “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4
• “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” – 1 Timothy 2:11-12
• “[The elder] must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive…Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.” – 1 Timothy 3:4,12
• “And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” – 2 Timothy 3:15
3. We envision individuals and families submitting themselves to the leadership of the local church, studying the truth of Scripture, being present and engaged in worship, and intentionally being a vibrant source of service, encouragement, and ministry to others.
• “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” – 1 Timothy 5:17
• “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers…they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families. – Titus 1:10-11
• “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those will have to give an account.” – Hebrews 13:17
• “So I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight….Be subject to the elders. – 1 Peter 5:1-2,5
4. We envision children—young and old—being with their parents in Lord’s Day (Sunday) worship. We want to equip and encourage families with young and old children to worship together. Yes, children will make noises, but we should be delighted to have children worshipping with us. If a child continues to be fussy, then we have a room for them to go.
• “Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones….that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children who have not know it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God.” – Deuteronomy 31:12-13
• “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones.” – Joshua 8:35
• “Meanwhile all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.” – 2 Chronicles 20:13
• “While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel.” – Ezra 10:1
• “And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced.” – Nehemiah 12:43
• “Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD!” – Psalm 148:12-13
• Examples of Jesus’ disciples trying to hinder children from coming to Jesus and Jesus rebuking them (Matthew 19:13-14; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). “And he took a child and put him in the midst of them…” – Mark 9:36
• Examples of Paul specifically addressing children in the church assembly at both Ephesus (Ephesians 6:1-2) and Colossae (Colossians 3:20).
5. We envision reaching out to orphans and to other children and youth from either broken homes or homes with unbelieving parents with the gospel of Jesus Christ and welcoming them into the church, where they find an abundance of fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters in the faith.
• “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless.” – Psalm 82:3
• “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:50
• “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” – 1 Corinthians 4:5
• “For you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” – Philippians 2:22
• “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
• “To Timothy, my true child in the faith.” – 1 Timothy 1:2
• “Do not rebuke an older man, but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” – 1 Timothy 5:1-2
• “Older women likewise are to…train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands.” – Titus 2:3-5
• “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.” – Philemon 1:10
• “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction. – James 1:27
6. We envision an emphasis on the gospel of grace in every area of church and family life, recognizing that we are all sinners in need of grace. Thus, this vision of church and home is not law-driven, but gospel-driven. God’s commands simply point us to that which pleases the Lord.
My hope and prayer are that you will not just cast these thoughts aside, but truly study what the Scriptures have to say. And may God give you grace in the journey of being transformed more and more by the renewing of your mind.