When church and family work the field together
As you read this article, perhaps you just sat down for a break from your busy day of ministry, grabbed a Diet Coke or a cup of coffee and if you’re like me, you’re excited to see all of the newest gadgets or ideas, glean some leadership tips for casting vision to your team and volunteers or maybe you seriously just needed to unplug and look at some pretty pictures for a little while. (We all have those days.)
Quite honestly, the words you’re about to read are not going to be anything new to you. This isn’t a brand new, “OMG” kind of idea that will revolutionize the way you do children’s ministry, but what these words will hopefully and prayerfully do, is spark some deep prayer time, allow you to pull back the sheet and do a blameless autopsy on this topic and maybe even pursue a shift in the way you approach this facet of your ministry.
Here’s the tension: as a church we are the obvious “big vehicle” to teach and disciple kids, to introduce them to Jesus as Savior and God as Creator, to teach them how to not just find Jesus but to follow Him with all their heart, soul and mind. BUT, parents are commanded to “impress these things upon their children”, train them up and instruct their children in the Lord.
So here’s the question to ponder: How are we as the church resourcing the parents in our ministries to truly be the primary spiritual influencers in their children’s lives?
In his book, Think Orange, Reggie Joiner says (and I agree) our job and the “reason we exist (the church, that is) is to show the world who Jesus is.” Parents however are the chosen people responsible for teaching, tutoring and training up their children to love the Lord their God with all their heart, and with all their soul and with all their mind (Mt. 22:39). That is the abundant harvest—kids growing into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ through the godly instruction and loving, intentional teaching of their parents.
Farm Store – The Church
I grew up in Oregon and now live in north Texas. The thing I love about both places are the deep roots in agriculture. Everyone knows it’s not uncommon to get behind combines or tractors on major roads and the best place to go for anything is the local feed and farm store. You see, farmers understand something very basic—in order to grow a good crop, there is preparation and work that must be done to yield a good harvest. Equipment must be in good working order, fertilizer and seed need to be purchased, but first the soil must be readied.
God being God understands this basic theory, too. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses told the Israelites the essence of all of the commandments and instructed them that these things were to be upon their hearts (Deut. 6:6). Essentially, He’s telling the adults of Israel that they’ve got to get this deep in their hearts. It has to be so interwoven into who they are that they bleed these things; there is only one God, love Him with all of your heart, all of your soul and with all of your strength! Moses is telling them to do the work, till the soil of your heart, pluck out the rocks and allow God’s rich Word to seep deep into the turf of your own heart … FIRST.
I have a friend who says, “God is so smart.” God understands that parents can’t pour into their children what they don’t have in their own lives.
Farmers – Parents
How and where do parents go for this? Where do they find the tools they need, the resources for good preparation in their own lives? As a farmer goes to the local farm store to find the answers and get the equipment and tools he needs, our parents are coming to us, the Church.
The problem we’re facing in our culture is that parents don’t know what they don’t know. Parents tend to think we are to raise our children to be responsible, respectable, successful and marketable adults (which are all great attributes), who in turn, will make a mark in this world. In fact, according to Deuteronomy we are to cultivate a deep love and relationship with God in our children as our first and most primary goal. Parents are to plow and plant the field of every child’s heart and soul with God’s Word.
How are we doing church? Are we getting these principles and commandments in front of our families? Are we doing the first thing and making sure that parents know what their God-given role is in the life of their kiddos? God made sure that Moses communicated this primary reality to every parent. We cannot expect parents to do their part if they don’t know what their part is. And I would also add, that it’s our role as the church, to continue to push this authority back to the parents. Again, remember so many of our parents don’t even realize that the influence of faith has been given to them and so in turn, many parents expect their children to get all of their spiritual learning and training only from the church.
Farm Tools, Equipment and Fertilizer – Resources
Every farm and ranch store not only has the newest and best supplies for the farmer, but they also have trained professionals who follow the trends, know the soil, offer solutions and options for all types of conditions, and anything else needed to insure a good crop. Have you developed or adopted good resources for parents? (Remember, we can’t expect them to do something they don’t know they’re supposed to be doing.) Do parents have a good platform to ask questions and be equipped to till the soil of their own hearts first, which in turn allows them to plant the seeds of righteousness into their little fields?
Resources can be as simple as a weekly handout with questions and Bible verses to read with their kids related to what you taught during your weekend programming. Ideas on your website such as journaling and craft activities that will remind the child of a specific characteristic of God or a biblical application. During a conversation today with a very creative young mom, she told me about starting S.O.A.P. journals for her 2- and 11-year-old daughters … yes, you read that correctly—two and eleven years old! She changed it from S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer) to G.I.F.T.S.—God’s Word, Identify what He wants me to learn, Focus (application), Thanksgiving and Share (share it with someone else). With her 2-year-old she allows her to pick the Bible story from her own age-appropriate Bible and as she reads the story, her daughter colors a picture. After they’re done she labels the page with the Bible story and the date. This lasts no longer than five minutes … brilliant! There are tons of ideas to offer the parents in your church.
Do you recommend books of the Bible, stories or verses to parents to encourage them in their pursuit of godly parenting skills? How about books or blogs that are spilling over with the rich fertilizer of godly wisdom and encouragement? Do you provide parenting classes or workshops focused on each age and stage of their children’s spiritual development?
We’ve made some very strategic decisions to include parents in salvation and baptism classes. We want to give the exhilaration of leading their child over the line of faith back to the parent. We also strive to train them to ask specific questions and listen for responses that identify faith and knowledge of personal sin, Christ’s sacrifice and living daily for a Great Big God! There are so many great ideas out there to link arms with parents. Look at your church and community culture and start with one easy tool that will get your parents to pick up the shovel and start tilling the soil.
The Harvest – Kids
The great reward of all soil preparation, tilling, picking out the rocks, pulling weeds, sowing seed, watering and protecting the crop from disease and pests (which my sister tells me is called integrated pest management and could be the topic for an entirely different article) of course, is the harvest. A good harvest insures that the farmer’s life can be sustained for another winter, and there is a profit and great benefit for the farmer’s family and the families that work for him.
In our context, the harvest is a child who has been poured into deeply with the timeless truths of the Gospel … who goes on to lead a life of a disciple who invests in making other disciples … who will leave a huge tattoo on this world by being the hands and feet of Christ everywhere he/she goes. But there is more, so much more and here is where our illustration of the farmer and the field ends. A farmer has a yearly yield, just for a season. Year in and year out, the farmer must continue to pluck, plow, plant and pick in order to achieve a dividend on his effort. Once he stops his seasonal contribution, the field will stop producing.
But for us, and the parents we shepherd, there is abundant return that will reach far beyond our eyes, our ears and our years. Exodus 20:6 says that God will show love to a thousand generations if they will love Him and keep His commandments. Read that one more time … 1000 generations. Our obedience today will yield a crop 1000 generations deep. That is what any farmer would call a good abundant harvest.