Shift: What It Takes to Reach Today’s Families

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Excerpted from Shift by Brian Haynes

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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…

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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.


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