The following is a transcript of part of a sermon, Theology of Family, preached at Apex in Kettering June 4-5th.
Let me ask families, can you think through this past week, and did you do anything intentional to teach your kid the gospel and to make a disciple out of your child? We can tutor them for hours in Math, Science and English and that's fine, but comparatively how much time did we spend teaching our kids the gospel?
For parents with little ones, do you discipline them in such a way that they recognize their behavior comes from their heart and what they truly need is heart change and that is only available through the gospel of Jesus Christ? Are you catechizing them, teaching them the things of faith through question and answer form? Are you teaching them God's big story from creation to new creation so they see the redemptive flow of what God has done in the world?
For parents of teenagers, are you teaching them how to read the bible for themselves and how to dig and get the meat of scripture? Are you teaching them sound doctrine? Are you teaching them a biblical worldview so they understand how to make sense of the world around them? Are you teaching them apologetics, the rational defense of the Christian faith so that when they go through Philosophy 101 in college they don't leave with an existential crisis and that there are answers to these questions? Are you teaching them how to repent and are you modeling that for them? Are you teaching them to preach the gospel to themselves so they understand their identity in Christ? Are you teaching them how to love their neighbor?
Perhaps you are here and you're a parent and your children are grown and you hear this standard for parents and this vision for family and you feel that in some ways you've failed. I had a man come up to me last night and say, "I wish I heard this 40 years ago." Let me just remind you of grace and there's nothing you can do to change the past but what can you do today? Maybe you'll have the opportunity to go to your child and repent and say, "I wish I would have done this...can I walk with you, can I mentor you in some way?" Maybe some will be receptive and maybe some will not. Perhaps there's someone else in your life you have the opportunity to pour into, to mentor and disciple. The question isn't, "What you you done?" The question is, "What will you do today to be faithful?"
We also need to recognize that even if we do all we can to pour into our children spiritually that does not guarantee they will come to know the Lord. God often uses the means of family to bring children to Himself, but there's no guarantee. The question is not, "How can I make my child become a Christian?" It's, "Will I be faithful today to do what God has given me to do?"
Here's my challenge to all of us, married, single, empty nester, anybody in here: Will you intentionally develop gospel centered relationships with the children of Apex Community Church? Coming from a youth ministry background, many of us are familiar with the statistic that something around 6-7 out of 10 kids, once they graduate high school, they leave the church. I'm not saying they lost their faith, I'm saying they probably never had it in the first place, but now they no longer have to appease Mom and Dad by coming to church. But what is the common denominator of the children who stay after graduation, who become disciples and are involved in the local church body? It's a few things: one is God's grace through consistent family discipleship and the second is having relationships with five of more adults in the church. There's research that backs this. That makes sense because what do we do with children from the time they're born to the time they come up through high school? We silo them! Here's the nursery. Here's children's ministry. Here's middle school ministry. Here's high school ministry, and when they graduate we say, "Ok, now go to big church where you don't know anybody." How are they supposed to feel connected to the church when all this time we put them in these little groups and they don't see any of you? So it's important that adults form relationships with the children of the church.
That's not necessarily a knock on programmatic ministry, but we need to be sure we have the right perspective of it. Children's ministry and youth ministry cannot be the primary engine of discipleship for children. That's the job of parents. Deuteronomy 6, Ephesians 6, Proverbs all put the onus on parents to teach their children the things of the Lord. I don't know if this is true of Apex, but in our broader western culture we have parents who feel that if they drop their kids off at children's ministry or youth ministry that they've done their job. I've heard stories of youth ministers, a parent of a kid who graduated years ago will come to this youth pastor's office and say, "My kid is not walking with the Lord now. You didn't do your job." That's not the perspective that we can afford to have. We need to see that we don't outsource discipleship to children's ministry and youth ministry, but we see them as a resource, we partner with those ministries. But the onus is on Mom and Dad.
And for the rest of us adults, we still need to be sure that we are investing in the children, so parents ask yourself, "Who is on my team? Who is on my team and will be the extended family in the community for my children?" How do you see the kids in your house church? Don't rush them off to the basement immediately. Because that child will one day be on mission with you. That child will one day be in your quad, your accountability group. That child will be your house church shepherd. I think about men in our church, Rob Turner, Jason Wing and the leadership we have with the elders and those guys aren't going to be around to do what they do forever. So who is going to mentor and disciple the next generation of elders and house church shepherds and preachers and teachers and just the body of Apex? Who is going to mentor and disciple them? As adults you have opportunities in your house church and Family Ministry needs help across the board. So if you want to develop intentional relationships with children in the church I encourage you to do so. In fact, it's vital.
I'll end like this: Adoniram Judson was the first missionary from America. He intended to go to Indian but ended up in Burma. He wrote a letter to the father of a lady he intended to marry. Her name was Anne Hasseltine. He wrote:
“I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world? Whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall resound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
I have two daughters, and I have yet to deal with this question of what to do when someone pursues them romantically. They're young and they're cute and cuddly and I want to keep them safe and near me, but my prayer is God would sanctify me to the point that this is the kind of letter I want to get. That someday a man would come into their lives and say, "I want my family to be about the kingdom." And I hope this is the kind of man my son becomes. So my encouragement to all of us is to develop this big vision for family, recognizing it goes way beyond our family. That the purpose of our family is for the glory of God and for the life of the world.