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Shift: What It Takes to Reach Today's Families

Brian Haynes

Excerpted from Shift by Brian Haynes

Chapter 2

God's Original Blueprint

There are places in the world that reverberate with antiquity. Jerusalem is one such place. As you enter through the Damascus gate into the old city of Jerusalem, you're in the open market of the Muslim quarter. Weaving through the crowded streets you pass shops filled with every kind of commerce imaginable. After what seems like a fairly short distance, you cross into the Jewish quarter and eventually arrive at the Western Wall, one of the holiest places on Earth in the Jewish culture.

Covering your head out of respect and approaching the wall to say a prayer, you immerse yourself in the activity around you. Orthodox Jews wearing phylactery boxes and bindings on their arms murmur prayers, desiring to be closer to God. You look around and notice older men teaching younger men the Scriptures from the Torah. Out of your peripheral vision you catch a glimpse of a father helping his young son memorize words of spiritual formation. You listen, closely intrigued by the beauty of the moment. You hear these words...

Sh'ma Yisra'el, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad.
ve'ahavta et Adonai eloheykha bekhol-levavkha u'vekhol nafshekha u'vekhol me' odekha
ve'hayu hadevarim ha'eileh asher anokhi metzavekha haiyom al-levavekha.
veshinantam levanekha vedibarta bam beshivtekha beveitekha u' velekhtekha vaderekh u'vshakhbekha u'vkumekha.
u'kshartam le'ot al-yedekha vehayu letotafot bein einekha.
u'khtavtam al-mezuzot beitekha u'visharekha.

Suddenly the 21st century and this ancient text, known as the Shema, collide. The child recites the words as his father encourages him. "Those words," you think to yourself. Strangely familiar and yet so foreign, they constitute the foundation for any biblical strategy of spiritual formation, beginning Moses' time, confirmed by Jesus himself, and especially relevant in the churches where you and I serve. In English, those words read like this.

"Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
Impress them on your children.
Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NIV).

Why are these words so important? This is God's plan for the spiritual formation of the generations. You don't have to travel to Jerusalem to unearth God's original plan. The Bible details the plan in all its simplicity. Parents teach their children how to love God by loving God in front of them. Parents intentionally impress the truth of God on their children. Nothing fancy. Beautifully simple.

A Closer Look at the Plan

Authenticity is a core value of the Shema. God asks people to first have these commands on their hearts before they ever try to pass them down to their children. You and I have seen it all before in ministry. The young people and children we work with often grow in their faith during an extended time away from normal life. Times like camp or mission trip or vacation Bible school. Then it happens. They go home to parents whose lack of authentic love for God inevitably chips away at their children's newfound passion for relationship with God. Soon enough these children are discouraged. Why? Their parents are the primary faith influencers in their lives by design. Parents' God-given influence -- when channeled apathetically or antagonistically -- can topple a week's worth of our efforts in seconds. To equip the generations effectively, we must reach and equip parents.

I suppose we should stop and recognize the obvious. As leaders of Christ-followers in whatever community, church, and ministry role we serve, we have the awesome responsibility to model a passionate love for God. Besides your children, you may think the most important people you live your life in front of are the children or young people whom you shepherd. Though this is crucial, I'm learning that it's even more important to love God with all of my being in front of their parents. If we model a passionate love for God, parents will begin to model it for their children. This is the way God's spiritual formation strategy works best.

As the Designer of humanity, God knows -- and every sane psychologist agrees -- that the single most important experience in a person's life is his or her family of origin. Everything flows from the original familial relationships that we enter without choice. God's plan for spiritual formation places the family in the lead when it comes to equipping the next generation. Parents are to impress the commands of God on their children in everyday life as they walk along the road, as they sit at home, when they lie down, and as they get up. This is a lost art among Christians in our culture for various reasons.

Families are busy. Kids participate in extracurricular activities by the time they enter preschool. Teenagers' pressured lives create stress and anxiety. Parents rush around in pursuit of the best for their children and may miss the opportunity to teach God's ways in the natural rhythms of life. There's rarely opportunity to experience God's presence or see God at work. Rest is a concept for the weak.

Parents think discipling their children is professionals' job. Most Christian parents' actions reveal their belief that the spiritual growth of their children is primarily the responsibility of trained specialists. Just as parents take their children to soccer practice to be taught by a trained coach, they take their children to church to facilitate spiritual growth. This view is only half true -- the church and parents must work together.

Parents aren't sure how to be primary faith influencers. Training a child spiritually seems frightening and foreign to the average parent. Many parents truly have no idea what it looks like to teach their children how to relate to God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It's rare to find a 30- or 40-something parent who understands the practice of impressing God's commands on their children in daily life. This is a problem that we as church leaders can address. We can revisit the original blueprint and teach parents how to practice the Shema for the sake of the generations.

Where We Walked Off the Path

Why has the typical 21st century church abandoned God's original plan, instead viewing itself as the only vehicle for discipling the generations? This shift is caused by a number of factors.

Many church leaders operate under the erroneous assumption that Old Testament principles are of lesser value than New Testament principles. Church leaders deduce that spiritual formation this side of the resurrection of Jesus Christ occurs through the vehicle of New Testament church alone. This negates the whole counsel of God's Word and perverts God's intentional plan for leading children spiritually. Just because God revealed his redemptive plan through Jesus and established communities, which we now call church, doesn't mean that parents no longer have the primary faith influence.

The church-growth movement redefined success. Beginning in the 1950s the role of the pastor changed from shepherd to strategist. Pastors and church leaders attended dozens of conferences and read hundreds of books designed to get more people inside the church facility on Sunday morning. There's measurable value in this. When people come to our churches, we're able to influence them for Christ, but the definition of success in ministry changed from an emphasis on spiritual formation to an emphasis on numeric growth. The church chose events as the preferred vehicle for spiritual formation. We often used gimmicks and guilt to bolster numbers. For most churches by the 1990s, the family didn't even register as a viable vehicle for equipping the generations. We developed children's ministries and youth ministries and gave hired professionals the responsibility for mentoring too many children. In short, we did it our way. We built magnificent organizations, but we produced a version of Christianity that is compartmentalized and humanistic. Our culture is now paying the price for "our version" of Christianity.

Please don't misread me. I'm not anti- church, anti-growth, or anti-conference. I'm simply not in favor of growth strategies that negate God's plan for spiritual formation. The church was never intended to be a substitute for the home. Helping children grow in their relationship with God is a biblical partnership that involves the family and the church.

What Does This Mean for Us as Church Leaders?

God invites us to join him in a shift of seismic proportions. Everywhere I go church leaders are wrestling with the issues of culture, family, and equipping the generations. Everyone is thinking strategy. Many are asking how we can equip the generations by using family as the primary influencer of kids' spiritual growth. I love to hear these questions. The questions are evidence of God's work in the lives of leaders across the country. God is in this. God will give you the strategy, but first God wants to give you courage.

Courage to Adjust Our Lives

If you and I are to lead our churches to embrace a strategy that engages every Christian home, we must first evaluate our personal strategy for equipping the next generation living at our home address. Angela and I have three daughters -- Hailey, Madelyn, and Eden. It's our responsibility to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength in front of them each day. It's our responsibility to keep the words of God on our hearts and impress them on our children. The important question for the people at my church is not, "Does Pastor Brian present a plausible strategy for equipping the generations?" The question of authenticity is, "Does Pastor Brian effectively disciple his own children?"

It's best to ask this question of yourself now and make a course correction if necessary. How are you intentionally leading your children spiritually as a father or mother, not as a ministry leader or pastor? If you're like me, you may realize that your default is to bring your children to church just like everyone else. It's possible that the situation in your home related to equipping the next generation needs strengthening.

I know. I know. All the meetings and people at church consume your time and energy leaving none for the spiritual formation of your children. Maybe you believe that working hard to make church a life-changing experience is the same thing as helping your children develop spiritually. If you can just lead your church to have the best children's ministry and the best youth ministry, your own children will get everything they need spiritually. You know that isn't true according to Scripture, but often this is the way we practice life. If this is the case, recognize your personal need to adjust your life to God's plan. Make it your priority to become the primary faith influencer of the children living in your home.

Early in my ministry I found myself serving as a student pastor in a local congregation struggling to make a difference for Christ in its community. For a variety of reasons, the church began to decline in attendance. Young families left the church in search of dynamic children's ministries and youth ministries to scratch spiritual itches that our church didn't succeed in alleviating. I was hurt and frustrated. Looking back I am embarrassed to say that in my soul I believed I could work harder to make the church succeed. For the sake of the call on my life to minister in a local church, I put all other priorities on hold, thinking that God wanted me to work harder to make the church a better place.

A couple of years went by. I worked harder and longer, but the church continued its decline. Those two years were damaging and catalytic all at once. Almost every night I'd come home, eat a quick dinner that my wife had prepared, kiss the baby, and head back to church for a meeting. I'd come home exhausted. Angela would already have our daughter in bed, and we'd sit down on the couch to talk. I'd spend the next hour before bed, griping about the church I worked so hard to help. This was our family routine for two years.

One night I came home late after an "exhilarating" church council discussion about weighty issues, such as the leaking dishwasher in the church kitchen and the need to pressure wash the molding brick facade. My wife and I talked about church once again. This time the conversation went in a completely different direction.

As I babbled about my frustrations related to church, I heard these words: "You are losing us."

I listened. My wife told me she felt like a single mom. The man she married was now married to the church. My daughter's father cared more about shepherding other people than teaching her Bible stories at night before she went to bed. Angela in her patience had waited two years, hoping I'd figure this out on my own. Now, led by the Holy Spirit, she told me the truth about myself. She asked for change. I was devastated.

Today I'm so glad Angela had the courage to communicate honestly with me. That one conversation jolted me to the core. I reconnected with the truth of Scripture and God's priorities for my life. This meant life change for me. I sought the Lord and God showed me Deuteronomy 6:4-9. I began to well up with passion for my wife and children. I soon saw my kids' spiritual growth as beginning in my home, not the church. I begged God in prayer for a fresh start. God orchestrated a career move to allow me the balance I needed to be a Christ-follower, a husband, a father, and then a pastor.

One night soon after we moved, my daughter Hailey, four years old at the time, looked up from her plate and asked, "Dad, what are you doing home for dinner?" With tears in my eyes I promised her I'd be home for dinner most nights from that point forward. Now family dinners, regular Faith Talks, celebrations, and God Sightings characterize our family life because of prioritized time and a plan to equip our daughters to become Christ-followers. Out of the overflowing life of my family comes the heart of my ministry. I can authentically expect our church to pursue parent-based spiritual formation because of the foundation of Scripture and the real experience of my own family.

To order Brian's book -- and get a 20% discount -- follow this link and use the promotional code CR9113 at checkout.


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