The Lord is at work in the world reconciling men to Himself. More than ever, we are hearing news of Christian movements in places that were earlier on difficult to penetrate. God is moving in places where people have the freedom to worship Him and in places where persecution spreads violently. We praise God for such revivals! These movements will not only be driven by Bible-believing churches but also through the ministry of the Christian family.
Statistics, however, show that in Europe and America, the church is in the decline. Thom Reiner in recent research found out that more and more young people are unable to articulate the gospel but claim to be born again. He says that among Americans born before 1946, 65 percent identified themselves as Christians and were able to articulate the basics of the gospel. For those born between 1946 and 1964, the number dropped to 35 per cent. For those born between 1965 and 1976, it fell to a scant 15 per cent. Finally, among Americans born between 1974 and 1994, only 4 percent of the population identified themselves as Christians and had trusted Christ alone for salvation.
Losing the grip
We are seemingly losing our children in a world where it is easier to communicate the faith, in an age of mega-churches and in an age where we have more youth workers than before. The biggest question is, where are we going wrong? Why are more young people not interested in faith? I think that there could be many reasons but one of the most fundamental ones, I suppose, is the crumbling of the Christian family. We have many Christian families that go to church together until a certain time when the children start transitioning to teenage or adulthood. Slowly, they stop accompanying their parents to church. Why are they jumping the ship? What can we do differently? Has the modern family neglected its role of discipleship? Are we teaching our children the faith as we ought to?
The early church
It was a common practice of the early church fathers of the 1600s to visit homes to find out whether the parents were discipling their children through the regular practice of family worship. In 1647, believers in Scotland published the Directory for Family Worship in which they wrote:
The assembly requires and appoints ministers to make diligent search and enquiry, whether there be among them a family or families which neglect the duty of family worship. If such a family is found, the head of the family is to be admonished privately to amend his fault; and in case of his continuing therein, he is to be gravely and sadly reproved by the session; after which reproof, if he is found still to neglect family worship, let him be, for his obstinacy in such an offense, suspended and debarred from the Lord’s supper, until he amends.
Family worship was so important and neglecting it required church discipline. This was pivotal because they understood the role of the family in discipleship. They knew that if the church was to be involved in advancing the Kingdom of God, they had to ensure that the family was doing its duty of discipling its members. What is the link between advancing God’s Kingdom and the family?
Teach your children the Greatest Commandment
God’s first charge to the first created beings was to fill the earth and subdue it. Sin certainly marred this command in many ways in that the people who now fill the earth are broken and sinful, but God commanded them to fill the earth. God wanted people who will love and worship Him. When we meet Abraham in Genesis 12, we hear this command, but differently said. God tells Abraham, “Through you, all the families of the earth will be blessed. “ In Genesis 18, this command is repeated and made clearer in verse 19, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Abraham was to direct his children in the way of the Lord. His obedience to this command was pivotal to the fulfilment of the promise made earlier. That applies to us today, too.
When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” As families, what are we supposed to do with the greatest commandment? Verse 7 says, “These commands that I give to you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children.”
As parents, God has first called us to love Him and then teach our children to love Him. At the heart of advancing the Kingdom of God is family discipleship. We cannot go out there to reach others while our very own offspring do not know and love the Lord.
How then do we achieve this?
When we got married, my husband and I decided that we would make every effort to personally and individually disciple our children. As fulltime ministry workers, we had observed a number of our friends who had gone before us and had the privilege to learn from them. We learnt how to do family and how not to do family. Looking back, we are so grateful that God allowed us to learn those truths while we were still young even before we had children. We have over the years learnt four important aspects of discipleship:
- Time is everything: Over the years we have learnt that children do not understand quality time but quantity time. The difference is huge. It is not some time well spent, but a lot of time spent together, more often than not, this time is not even planned. Effective discipleship best happens when there is a lot of time of physical interaction with the children. We decided that we were going to structure our lives in a way that allowed us maximum time with them. For any family to achieve deep fellowship, they must maximize their time.
- Instruct your children in the faith: When the puritans were going from house to house, they were checking whether the parents were instructing the children in the faith. More often than not we assume that our children will pick the basics of faith without direct instruction. We discovered early enough that children need systematic instruction as regards faith just like we all need. We have found catechism a very easy yet very deep way of teaching doctrine. Questions like who God is, what is man, what is sin and such theological reflections must be clarified at home. The church becomes a support pillar for the parent since children spend more time at home as compared to the one hour or so in Sunday school. As a parent, you must do the work of impressing as instructed in Deuteronomy 6: 4-9.
- Live out the faith as living examples: besides instructing children in the ways of God and doctrine, parents have the responsibility to live out that faith at home to give life to the principles taught. We have even a greater responsibility to demonstrate that faith at home, at work, with friends and family. Some of our children are confused when we live dichotomously. We seem to portray a different image to the world and live differently at home. The most powerful sermon for children is when we live out what we teach them.
- Inspire children to live for greater things: When we have instructed our children and faithfully walked in the ways of the Lord as examples, we then need to inspire them to live for the advancement of the Kingdom. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says, and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. After we have done what we must do as parents, we do not hold our children back when God calls them. We inspire them to live for purposes beyond this life. We must encourage them to be part of the Great Commission even in dangerous ways. From our experience with discipling young people for the last fifteen years, parents are the greatest hindrance to the call, especially towards overseas or cross-cultural missions. We are not discipling children for ourselves, no, they are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. We are preparing children for battle for the souls, not for our ambitions. We pray daily that God will help us raise for Him arrows that will be mighty in His hands to contend with the enemy at the gate.
God is looking to us to advance the Kingdom, to reach the unreached of the world and that depends on the quality of family discipleship we apply at home. God can accomplish His purposes without us, but because of His great mercy, He allows us to be part of that amazing tack of reconciling men and the world to Himself. We begin by making disciples of our families and preparing those disciples to be actively part of the Great Commission.
Written by Margaret Gathuku who is the editor of Timazi Magazine, A Kenyan high school magazine connecting born again Christian students in order to learn how to think and act from the Bible, continually putting the word of God as the plumbline to all of life. Maggie as she’s fondly called is married to John Gathuku and they are blessed with three lovely children.
 http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_standards/index.html?mainframe=/ documents/wcf_standards/p417-direct_fam_worship.html