As word gets out that our family is working with the Evangelical Free Church to plant a church of missional communities in the upstate of South Carolina, I find myself fielding a myriad of questions usually regarding the typical “why”, “when” and “where” questions about church planting. I do my best to explain that our church planting model is much more focused on building relationships than buildings and is driven by mission more than programs but I’m confident that I’ve done nothing but confuse those I’m talking to. In my attempt to give sense to our endeavor, I have been met with some resistance from one certain category of people: parents. It has been very sobering to listen to some of the rationale why parents would not consider participating in a missional community and I feel the need to challenge some of the parental thinking that seems to prevail regarding children and the church in general but may also shape a parent’s thinking toward participating in a church plant in particular.
The response that I often hear goes something like this. “We need to be in a church where our children’s needs are met. We want a church that offers wonderful programs which our children love and which fosters in them a desire to participate and enjoy the church experience. We desire a church that offers great programs, great teaching and fun activities which leaves our children wanting to return the following Sunday.” Now let me be perfectly clear. I don’t believe that everyone who is uninterested in launching out and planting a new church is wrong for not being willing to do so. I do however, think that parents need to rethink what they are teaching their children about the church and then take radical steps to reorient their families to the gospel and gospel driven mission.
- We are likely teaching an entire generation of children that “having fun” and being catered to is the main objective of the church. Instead, children should be taught by their parents that nothing is more important than living in obedience to God’s word and leading others to know Christ by serving others and laying their lives down for the sake of the gospel.
- We are reinforcing a sinful nature in our children who already are made to think that the world revolves are them rather than teaching them that God is the center of His universe and He has invited us to join Him in His mission and that should be the very core of our existence.
- Parents think more like consumers than “saints striving to build up the body of Christ” while growing up into maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:12).
- We think the church is an organization that exist for us. Generally speaking, our culture has little biblical understanding of the church and the mission for which it was founded. We “join” churches using much the same criteria that we would use in searching for a gym, daycare or school. We ask, “Does the church teach the things I believe. Do they play the music I enjoy? Do they provide the programs for my children that attract and keep their attention? Are there plenty of activities for my children to be involved? Are our needs met here?
- Realize that Christ created, lived and died for his church and we must become much more diligent about understanding what the role of the church is in our generation and every generation that follows. The church exists in order to fulfill the mission of God to bring about the very reconciliation and redemption of all of God’s creation (2 Cor.5:20).
- Realize that the church does not exist to serve, entertain or satisfy your children (Mat 28:19). You have Disney World for that.
- Pray, repent of self-worship and look for ways to engage culture as a family. Raise your children to be selfless heralds of the gospel and not those who put their needs above those of others. Parents should model a love of Christ that drives them into the world and culture. Children should be raised to function within culture rather than insulating them against it.
- Make it a priority to cultivate Christian community in your family. Our children need nothing more than to belong to an intimate fellowship of believers of every age and culture. More than entertainment, our children need to see their parents interacting and living within the body of Christ AND the world. How will our children grow up to love the church and how will they know how to function within the community of saints if they do not see it modeled in their parents?
In Deuteronomy 6:7 the Bible explicitly articulates what every page of the Bible affirms regarding a parent’s responsibility to their children and that is, “You shall teach them (God’s law) 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.” Our children don’t need us to teach them how to “go to church.” They need their parents to teach and model for them what a life and family saturated with the gospel and consumed with the mission of God looks like and the only way to do this is in Christian community. Is it any wonder that so many young adults abandoned the church when they are own their own? It’s not enough to show our children that church is a big part of our lives. We must pray and help them develop a deep, abiding love for Christ and all of his creation and train them to be faithful “ambassadors for Christ” who are servant minded rather than consumers looking to have their needs met.
There may be many reasons why we would not subject our family to the trials and troubles of church planting (though I can’t think of a legitimate reason at the moment), but our children’s comfort and social needs should not be one of those reasons.