THE GROUP MODEL

The group model is a fancy way of talking about what each small group will look like once it’s done being put together. It’s a lot like a model car or airplane. There’s a picture on the box of what it’s supposed to look like once everything is done being snapped and glued together and once it has all the decal stickers and paint applied. This manual is the box cover that shows us what the group will should look like.

 

There are several different methods or models for small groups. The first question we have to answer in determining the model that best fits us is what is our purpose for a small group ministry? If our purpose is to learn more about the Bible then that will shape the form of the group. Or if the purpose were to exist as a separate Church altogether then that would certainly shape the way the group looked. Since we have a clear purpose (establish and maintain a structure where relationships can be created and cultivated), we are able to envision our model with a great deal of clarity. Our small groups will consist of 7-15 people meeting in one another’s homes to discuss Biblical topics and passages, share in time of prayer and intercession and spend time in fellowship. An important note is that these numbers are exact. If a group does not have at least seven people sign up (including the leader and co-leader) then the group will not be formed. Each of those members will be asked to join another group. Likewise, once a group is at fifteen people it will be closed and no additional church members will be able to sign up. This may, at first, seem overly strict; however this is an intentional effort to respect the natural group dynamics that have been previously discussed. If the group is too small or too large, it will struggle to meet the intended purpose.

 

Open or Closed Groups

The idea of being open or closed has to do with whether or not the group will encourage and invite people to join the group while it is in session. Because of our primary purpose, each small group will be closed to our church members once it has begun. That means there’s no group hopping if someone becomes unhappy with their group. However, because of our secondary purposes of assimilation and evangelism, each small group will be open for us to invite our friends, new members or people who visit.

 

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Group Dynamics
At this point it is helpful to consider the impact of group dynamics and how this idea plays out in our own model, or way of “doing church”. Group dynamics are not an especially religious phenomenon; as they extend beyond churches and into organizations of all shapes, sizes and purposes. When we use the term group dynamics, what we are referring to here is primarily the differences between people’s interactions and relationships when they are placed in groups of different sizes. In other words, how people act when they are in a group of seven people will be different from how people act when they are in a group of one hundred people.

 

Large Groups = Family Reunions

The first of the three different group types is the large group. A large group numbers more than 50-60 participants and is comprised primarily of tertiary relationships. In our context, our Sunday morning worship assembly is a large group; where the primary purpose is to worship God together as a large family. There is very little, if any, personal sharing that takes place when this group meets. Specifically, our interaction and relationship development is limited to the few minutes prior to and immediately following the worship time.

 

In order to understand the social dynamic, it might be helpful to think of this group as a family reunion. At traditional family reunions we have the opportunity to catch up on what’s been going on in our lives, reminisce about fond memories and departed loved ones, share a great meal together and even create a few new memories. It’s a great time, a time that none of us would ever trade. But there are limits to what we do together. This is very much what our Sunday morning worship is like.

 

One of the misunderstandings of large groups in the church context is that everyone should be close, and able, to minister to everyone. That is an expectation that cannot be met and sets people up for disappointment and disillusionment with church; because it is not congruent with the purpose of the large group on Sunday mornings—which is to worship, encourage one another and be edified by the Word of God being presented.

 

Medium Groups = Thanksgiving Dinner

The next group is the medium sized group. A medium sized group will generally number between 15-50 people. These groups are comprised primarily of secondary relationships. In the context of our church our medium-sized groups are primarily going to be bible classes on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. These middle-sized groups are usually, depending to a large extent on the group leader, successful at providing a non-threatening environment where people can share on a surface level. People can get to know everyone in the group by name, talk about things like the weather, their hobbies and maybe even their families. It’s an opportunity to experience social fellowship, acceptance and sense of belonging. And in the context of our bible classes, it gives people the opportunity to ask questions and share thoughts and opinions about the text or topic being discussed, which the large group does not provide.

 

If the large group is like the family reunion, then the medium sized group is like the family that gets together at Thanksgiving. Your spouse, children, grandkids and perhaps a sibling might all be present. Because of these relationships, we will generally share on a much more personal level than with our second cousins at the family reunion. But because of the size of the group and the relationships present there is still a ceiling or limit to the level of closeness that we might be willing to share.

 

Small Groups = Dinner Table

This brings us to small groups. These groups generate primary relationships and generally number between 5-15 people. It is in these primary or small groups that relationships are deepened and intimate or personal sharing takes place. Referring to the family illustration, this would be your immediate family with your spouse and children. When your immediate family sits down together for supper (at the dinner table) there is very little that is off limits in terms of where our relationships will allow the conversations to go. If we are functioning as healthy family units then the kids will feel open to share what happened at school that day and how it made them feel (good or bad). Similarly, Dad will feel comfortable griping to Mom about the person at work that is being difficult. And Mom will have no problem sharing the personal struggle that she might be having with her sister and mother. These are representative examples of what small groups are like—members of the group sharing life together and thereby practicing the “one another” passages. This is different in content from the Thanksgiving meal family. And it is certainly different from the Family Reunion group.

 

A Summary Diagram of the Small, Medium and  Large Group Types

 

In the church setting the small group goes beyond surface interaction and social fellowship to a spiritual fellowship. In small groups people can begin to fulfill biblical mandates such as “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2) and “weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). The small group is the context where those things are lived out.

 

The point is not that small groups are inherently more valuable or more biblical. Each has their place in the Church and presents their own unique value. And this is why a small group ministry is essential for our ability as a Church to effectively live out the biblical expression of the church as a family. Having this ministry built into our structure provides a stable and consistent opportunity for us to collectively practice the “one another’s” and thereby fulfill our Vision to be Jesus’ family.

The Remaining Purposes

The primary purpose of our Small Group ministry is to provide a permanent and consistent structure that is conducive for creating and cultivating relationships. There are six additional purposes: they are discipleship, evangelism, leadership development, ministry (via spiritual gifts and assimilation.

 

Discipleship

Discipleship is process of becoming more Christ-like. Paul wrote specifically about this in his letter to the Romans.

 

Romans 12:1-2

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

When we refer to discipleship we are also talking about spiritual development. Small groups provide for discipleship in ways that our large (worship assembly) and medium (bible classes) sized groups are less effective. The reason is along the same lines that we have discussed with group dynamics. In the large group we are presented with information about how God wants us to live and encouraged to go and live that way. In the bible classes we have the opportunity to discuss what it looks like to live out the scriptures, but we rarely move past this level into talking about how we are personally succeeding or struggling to do so. In small groups we will have the opportunity to share in these more personal discussions.

 

Evangelism

Evangelism is directly impacted by small groups in that they provide a non-threatening and informal environment where non-Christians can interact and develop relationships with Christians. Every relationship increases the opportunity the person to be converted to Christ. Additionally, people who have little to no church background are (for whatever the reason) often reticent to accept an invitation to come to a worship service. In those instances, an invitation to join a group of friends is much more likely.

Leadership Development

Leaders are not developed without having the opportunity lead. And opportunities to lead rarely present themselves without intentionality. Leaders are raised up through small groups as they are given more opportunities through practical experience.

 

Ministry (via Spiritual Gifts)

Through Paul’s writing, the Holy Spirit makes it very clear that He has given each Christian at least one gift. Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians:

 

1 Corinthians 12:4-7

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. 

Some gifts are public in nature. For example, the gifts of teaching, preaching or worship leading all have natural avenues to be utilized. However, that is not the case for all the gifts. There are others that can easily go underutilized if we are not intentional about creating opportunities. The small group structure, for reasons already discussed, provide the opportunity for relational gifts to be manifested and appreciated.

 

Assimilation

The final purpose for our Small Group ministry is to provide a means to assimilate visitors and new members into the family (by helping them to develop relationships with as many people as possible). This has also been referred to as “closing the back door”. There are few things more frustrating of investing yourself so much into sharing your faith with a friend, praying for them, studying the Bible with them, converting them to Jesus Christ and then watching them slowly fall away because they were never able to get connected and by making friends with people in the church. A small group is a natural on-ramp that will connect visitors and new converts alike with the members of the church and provide the opportunity to begin creating and cultivating relationships.


By now you may have begun to realize why creating and cultivating relationships is the primary purpose of the Small Groups ministry and all these other purposes (though important) are secondary. Each one of these other five purposes is a positive outcome of creating and cultivating strong relationships. And beyond that, each of these secondary purposes are interconnected and feed off of one another. 

THE PURPOSE OF SMALL GROUPS

The primary purpose of the Small Group ministry is to provide a permanent and consistent structure that is conducive for creating and cultivating relationships. There are five additional purposes that are important—but creating and cultivating relationships is the ultimate reason for the ministry.

 

Before continuing with a deeper explanation of the purposes, it’s important to understand how the Small Groups ministry fits into our Vision Statement—which is a constant reminder of who we are and what we strive to be. Simply put, we are striving to create and cultivate relationships so that we can better fulfill our Vision.

 

Vision Statement

Our vision is to be Jesus’ family that is united by God’s love and is passionately and prayerfully seeking to Know, Serve and Share Him.

 

Being a part of a family, particularly God’s family, necessitates that we are bound together by strong relationships. Family is a constant fixture in the New Testament, as it is repeatedly used to illustrate God’s will for the lives of His church. Though there are many others, consider these scriptures in the context of family.

 

Ephesians 2:17-19

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.

 

1 Timothy 3:14-15

14 I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, 15 so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

 

Hebrews 3:5-6

Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.

 

Based on these Scriptures it seems clear that together we make up God’s family or household, and that Jesus Christ is the head of the family. From an appreciation of this reality we are left with the challenge of understanding what a biblical family looks, and is supposed to act like. As we attempt to answer this question there is one thing that we can be certain of: the first century family and the twenty-first century family look and live radically different from one another. It’s not possible, nor would we likely want to live life as a first century family. And while we are not able to transition the cultural norms that defined first-century family, we are able to transition the divinely-instituted values that are embedded into the fabric of all family structures, regardless of what they look like.

 

For our purposes, we have decided to define and communicate our family values by using the “one another” passages found in the New Testament. So in other words, when we say that our vision is to “be Jesus’ family,” that means we want to consistently and effectively live out the “one another” passages; and by doing so we intend to bring the biblical values of family into the twenty-first century.

 

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. And at times we have not done a very good job of making this happen. Just consider this, how often have we or do we help one another work through the consequences and burdens that our sins create in our lives (Galatians 6:1-2)? Similarly, it is probably quite rare when we have the depth of relationships necessary for us to feel comfortable confessing our sins to a brother or sister and asking them to pray for us (James 5:16). These are biblical mandates that we often fail to live out. Yet, it’s not for lack of desire. In fact, we often greatly desire to have the relationships that would enable us to share in this manner.

 

So what is creating this disconnect? Assuming that we do have a desire to share these types of relationships, what is keeping us (as a church family) from turning our desires into purposeful results? Though we may be oversimplifying it somewhat, our answer is found in these two explanations. First, our Western culture has permeated our lives to such an extent that our greatest values are our privacy and individualism. These values are set in direct opposition to the practice of the divinely inspired “one another’s”. For example, to a large degree, it is likely our desire for privacy that makes us uncomfortable with the idea of sharing our personal failures with someone else. Overcoming this obstacle is no small task. It will require awareness and intentional persistence.


The second explanation, more tangible in nature, is the model or structure that we operate within. Church model or structure is another way of saying the way we “do church”. We currently exist within a traditional model that features the use of large and medium-sized groups.

I appreciated the opportunity to review several articles related to conflict and conflict resolution, particularly as it relates to “in the trenches” ministry. It was because of this fact that I was able to derive the greatest value. And it is also because of this that I am able to relate these articles back to Scriptures. To that extent the articles were full of biblical principles.

First of all, there is a widely perpetuated myth that conflict is immoral, or even sinful. It seems likely that this myth is spread by the reality of our consistent failures when it comes to how people respond to various conflicts. In other words, because we are so accustomed to the negative outcomes that come from handling conflict poorly, we naturally assume or that conflict in sinful. This is not true and is supported neither by the inspired Scriptures nor practical experience. Reading the articles help to reinforce my thinking on this.

The truth is that our behaviors and choices before and after the conflict is what is actually sinful or glorifying to God. Conflict by itself is amoral. Jesus’ life serves as a clear representation of this challenging reality. The Gospels record one conflict after another between Jesus and His contemporaries. For example, the Gospel of John records Jesus’ creation of conflict and details his response.

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:13-17).

 

In this example, the fact that Jesus was involved in a fairly serious conflict demonstrates that it is not inherently sinful. However, in this instance (and in Jesus’ opinion) these conflicts were initiated because of the sinful attitudes and actions of those that he was in conflict with.

One other consideration related to the amoral nature of conflict is its inherent inevitability. Fundamentally, conflict is simply the absence of agreement. Or more specifically, according to Dictionary.com it is defined as: coming into collision or disagreement; being contradictory, at variance, or in opposition. It seems rather obvious that disagreements and variances are going to happen between people—even those with especially close and loving relationships (i.e. parent/child or spouses). Man was created to be a unique individual. That one fact alone is bound to create conflicts.

This leads naturally to the question, “what causes conflict”? In his article, “Seven Reasons for Staff Conflict,” Jacobsen lists several factors that create conflict: majoring in minors, miscommunication, environment, diversity in perspective, generational differences, theological disagreements and a lack of relationships.

Certainly, as has been referred to, conflict can be created innocently; and it may simply be a matter of two people respectfully disagreeing about an issue that is entirely innocuous or benign. However, that is not necessarily the case; and the Bible speaks loudly and clearly about defining those behaviors and attitudes that instigate conflict that may not be entirely above reproach; or that which may actually be sinful. Paul’s comments in his letter to the Ephesians serve to frame this conversation. He writes:

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

Through these comments, Paul appears to be making the case that these particular behaviors contradict the will and nature of the Holy Spirit: bitterness, rage, anger, harsh and slanderous words and all other types of evil behaviors. He then gives three directions that, not coincidently, align themselves with his more famous list found in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). It’s clear that (according to v.32) Paul is providing direction that, if followed, will limit unnecessary conflict. For example, Paul is saying that we ought to live without rage, anger, harsh words and slander—the perfect ingredients for a feud. So what causes conflict? At least according to Paul, conflict is created when people live contrary to the will and leading of the Holy Spirit.

Many of the Proverbs mirrors Paul’s thinking. Or perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that Paul’s direction may actually be reflecting teachings found in the Proverbs. Specifically, 15:1 states that “a gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” This clearly teaches that angry and harsh words incite tempers; which in turn produces or exacerbates conflict. Anger and harshness is in direct opposition to gentleness and kindness, two “Fruits of the Spirit.”

Proverbs 18:13 shares another direction that aligns itself with Paul’s teachings in Galatians. It states that, “spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” This is a clear indictment against a lack of patience, another “fruit of the Spirit”. Proverbs 26:20-21 provides one additional example. “Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops. A quarrelsome person starts fights easily as hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood.” The first of these two proverbs indicate that gossip is a common source of conflict. It’s reasonable to conclude that a lack of self-control is a common source of gossip. In the second proverb, the writer indicates that a quarrelsome person does not live at peace. These are two more “fruits of the Spirit. One last time . . . based upon this evidence, it seems that at least some conflict is generated when people live contrary to the will and leading of the Holy Spirit.

As was discussed previously, this truly lays at the crux of the matter because it is often at this point that sin enters into the picture. Again, conflict alone is not sinful. However, manner in which it is created and resolved may certainly be. So what does the Bible say with regard to resolving conflict? What direction exists that would lead a God-fearing and Spirit-following person to successfully navigate conflict? The answer . . . plenty.

Keeping in mind that giving in to the opposite party is not necessarily the right choice, Proverbs 19:11 provides a compelling argument. It states that “sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.” In short, it may well be the case that the best way to resolve a conflict is to ignore the transgression that instigated it.

Paul provides several strong teachings on handling conflict. For example, in Colossians 3:13-15 Paul says that we ought to:

make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

 

He also shares in 1 Peter 3:8-9 that

 

all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it.

 

Perhaps the greatest teaching on handling conflict comes from Paul in his letter to the Philippians 2:3-5. In this letter it seems that Paul was attempting to reconcile damaged relationships. He writes in this text, “don’t be selfish; don’t try impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

 

GROUP LEADERSHIP

Qualifications

What are the qualifications to lead a group? It’s all based on relationships. There are three relationships that are so important for our Small Group ministry to thrive; and it’s important that our Group Leaders have healthy relationships in each area.

 

  1. Relationship with God
    • A Christian who is in a maturing relationship with God.

 

  1. Relationship with Family
    • In obedience to God is seeking to have a positive and healthy relationship with immediate family.

 

  1. Relationship to Church
    • A committed member of the Church family.
    • Fully supports the Vision and Mission of the Church family through giving and serving.

 

Training

Prior to leading a small group it is necessary to attend a leader training event. The initial training will take place in the form of a Model Small Group. Subsequent training will take place quarterly (on a Saturday morning for three to four hours) prior to launching new groups. Because there will likely be occasional changes, it will be necessary to attend the training event even if you have previously led a group.

 

Developing New Leaders

Developing and creating a pipeline of new leaders is crucial for our Small Group ministry as we move forward from the start-up phase. Having quality leaders will create our ability to maintain quality groups, and add more groups as the need arises. From a wider perspective, our overall health as a Church will depend greatly on having fresh and strong leaders who are both capable and willing to step forward when the need arises.  

 

This will not happen just because we recognize the need for it to happen. We must develop an intentionality and purpose in cultivating a culture that encourages people to find their leadership talents and gives them to opportunity to develop those talents in a safe environment. Again, this will not happen by accident. Together we will make it happen!

 

There are two intentional activities that we will consistently plan on. We are purposing for these activities to help accomplish the goals of creating the culture and creating opportunities.

 

  1. Consistently teach on Biblical leadership in our large group worship assembly and middle group Bible classes. We are often guilty of two errors when it comes to our thinking on biblical leadership; and these misunderstandings can create barriers to maintaining a leadership development culture.
  • First, it’s easy for us to equate being in charge or being the boss to leadership. These are two different dynamics. The authority that comes with being in charge is title or role based. That means that because of a position a person holds, they inherently hold a position of authority. That’s true for many of us at work. The manager at the plant has the authority because he is the Manager. This is not necessarily leadership. Leadership authority is not derived from a position or role that a person holds. It is given to the leader by the people that choose to follow him or her; and is generated through the influential relationships that a person creates and cultivates.

 

  • The second misunderstanding is that successful secular leadership will naturally translate into successful spiritual leadership. Often times this is the case. There are generic traits that lend themselves to strong leadership, regardless of the setting. But when we study how Jesus led people, we see that there is something unique that sets Biblical leadership apart.

 

The more we teach (from the Bible) what Biblical leadership is and what it looks like, the more people will understand what it is not. From this understanding, encouragement and confidence will follow. Once people understand that they are gifted in ways that will allow them to be effective leaders, they are more willing to open themselves up to the risk of stepping out and giving leadership a try. This is a win that we must encourage and celebrate!

 

There is a particular passage that is especially relevant to this discussion.

1 Peter 2:5, 9

“And you are living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple. What’s more, you are His holy priests.”

“But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”

 

What a glorious day it will be when we each come to understand how special we are and how much we have to offer; all because of our relationship with the Heavenly Father!

  1. Intentional Mentoring in order to encourage and develop future leaders. There is something particularly inspiring when a person you respect and admire believes in you so much that they want to carve out special time and give you special attention in order to share their life and experiences with you. Helping people to find their potential as a fellow laborer in the Kingdom is one of the greatest pleasures that a leader can enjoy. This is mentoring. This is special and needs to be held in high regard.

 

In the context of our Small Groups, each group leader will be encouraged to seek out a co-leader with whom they can mentor and help develop. There is no particular program or skill set needed to do this. Simply inviting someone to come alongside you in ministry is sufficient.  In addition, both the Shepherds and Minister will be intentional about seeking out opportunities to minister to and help develop leadership skills that are just waiting to be cultivated and utilized. To put in a concise statement, each group leader, Shepherd and Minister will proactively seek to train their replacement.

 

Role of the Staff and Shepherds

The Shepherds primary responsibility to the Small Group ministry will be to model active participation and provide continual shepherding to the group leaders. The Shepherds understand that leading a group will bring great joy and at times difficult challenges. They are committed to doing whatever is necessary to nurture and mentor each group leader in order to help them to be as effective as possible in this important role.


The Preacher (and any subsequent ministry staff members) will generally serve as a group leader. Most often, as the needs allow, the Preacher will take one quarter each year to participate in a group without having leadership responsibilities. The Preacher will work alongside the Deacon of Small Groups to help provide vision and direction for the ministry. They will work together to recruit and train group leaders, provide continual assessments of the status of the ministry, develop plans for the future and in general carry out the leadership of the ministry as a whole.

Statistics abound that point to an epidemic facing Christian families today. All one needs to do is to select which study they prefer . . . we are losing our young people. A recent study by Chap Clark and Kara Powell (with the Fuller Youth Institute) claim that between 40-50% of all churched teenagers leave their faith when they leave home. Just think about how scary that number is. For a family with three children, the statistics say that one of your children will leave their faith. As disconcerting as this is, all is not lost: according to the same study, between 25-40% of those young Christians that left will return in their mid to late twenties.

There is an abundance of material available offering both research-driven and anecdotal explanations for what is causing our young people to leave their faith. Some of these are obvious, for example, we live in an increasingly secular society; while others are a little more complex (i.e. implications from changing theology). Here are five possible explanation from a concerned observer with five kids.

  1. There is a clear decline in spiritual engagement. In other words, there is a lack of interest in religious activities. There are two great examples of this: summer church camp and bible bowl activities. At one point, the activities were extremely popular with kids and parents alike circling the dates on the calendar. Now, depending on the location, bible bowls and church camps are struggling to stay alive.
  2. A drop-off mentality culture has begun to invade churches. In other words, parents are often relying on their local church and their professional clergy to instill faith in their children. Unfortunately, not only is that against the biblical mandate for parents to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, it’s simply a bad idea that doesn’t work.
  3. It’s easy to throw rocks at parents and condemn them for the drop-off mentality, as if they don’t care about their children or are too lazy to make the investment in their spiritual growth. That’s usually not the case. Instead, many parents pass off the responsibility of instilling their children’s faith onto the church because they lack confidence. They lack confidence because they have never been equipped and encouraged to own their child’s spiritual development.
  4. There is a lot of competition for the Christian worldview. Satan is extremely talented at redefining values; and these secular values find its way into our homes and eventually our hearts. These ideas like consumerism, materialism and relativism are constantly pulling and tugging children away from the Lord and closer to the world.  
  5. Perhaps the greatest factor that leads our kids away is a poor theology. In far too many homes and churches we are teaching our children to believe in and base their faith upon faulty theology and doctrine. For example, far too many are placing their faith in coming to church instead of seeking out a deep and intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

 

I often wondered about my place and role in my child’s life. How much influence do I have? How much are they really listening to me? Are their surroundings going to overtake me and their Mother in terms of influence and importance? These are common questions for parents. And they are fair questions. After all, as the spiritual battlefield becomes more and more cluttered with children who have left the church and their faith, it’s natural to wonder when their parents lost the ability to influence, lead and direct their children. And so I am left to fear for the future of my young children.

There is hope. In fact, there is a great deal of hope for those of us who are walking through the daily challenges of raising healthy and faithful God-fearing children. In a recent survey, teens were asked to list the greatest religious influences in their life. Here are the results.

  1. Mother
  2. Father
  3. Minister/Pastor
  4. Grandparent
  5. Sunday School/Bible class
  6. Youth Group
  7. Bible camp
  8. Miscellaneous church event

 

This list is screaming out to parents. The real question is whether or not Mom and Dad are listening. This list is really nothing more than practical confirmation or proof of what God has been saying for thousands of years.

A great example of this found in the book of Deuteronomy; which is essentially akin to a parents’ last speech to their child who is about to leave home for college. The text in 6:4-9 records Moses’ last words of exhortation, encouragement and direction for his spiritual children before they leave his presence to go on to the land flowing with milk and honey—the promised land. It says,

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

 

God, through Moses, is laying the responsibility of training children in righteousness (Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 22:6) at the feet of the parents. At this point (in the history of Israel) it seems that Moses primary concern was ensuring that the nation would thrive and prosper as they entered a new chapter in their collective lives. It is evident that Moses believed that this would happen only if the nation remained faithful to, and walked with, God. For this to happen, each generation of parents needed to teach their children that the Lord is God and that they should love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and strength. This task was not given to the Elders or even the Priests. It was given to the parents, to be done in the context of the family and the home.

Referring back to the list of influences, it is for both inherent and practical reasons that parents hold the top spot—it is not coincidental or incidental. For Moses, this was the most important direction that he could give. These were his last words to his spiritual children. Teaching a child to honor the Lord as the only God of their life and to love the Lord their God with all of their heart, soul and strength was among the last and most important directions that Moses gave.

Just as God calls and equips those that He calls today, we should expect nothing less as parents. We are equipped with the natural and inherent influence to teach and lead our children. They are our legacy. Their souls are at stake. And it is Mom and Dad’s responsibility.

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“Houston, we have a problem.” Tom Hanks may have made the words famous, but we’re not too far off when it comes to our families in churches across the country. Perhaps unlike any other time in other time in recent history, our families are being attacked spiritually. This should really come as no surprise as 1 Peter 5:8 contends that “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” The greatest evidence of this may be seen in the faith of our children, specifically our teenagers. For example, a recent study of “churched” teens who are actively involved in a strong youth ministry program indicated that:

  • Between forty and fifty percent will significantly struggle with their faith when they leave home.
  • Eighty-six percent of these students thought that their faith was not strong enough to stand up on its own.
  • Eighty percent of the students who leave their faith intended to stick with the Church.

Statistics are a dime a dozen and can usually be made to indicate whichever bias the author prefers. These statistics are no different. That being said, the true value in these statistics lie not in the numbers themselves but in the warning shot they extend across our family ships.

Though our attitudes and actions may not always indicate such, our children are not raised in a spiritual vacuum where the Church provides all of their necessary spiritual formation (which often creates an attitude that as long as they consistently attend worship and activities, they will be fine. On the contrary, the spiritual health of our children (and families) is tied directly to the importance that we choose to place in faith in the home. The following results of a survey support such a conclusion.

  • Twelve percent of teens have a regular dialogue with their mother on faith/life issues.
  • Five percent of teens have a regular dialogue with their father on faith/life issues.
  • Nine percent of teens have experienced regular reading of the Bible and devotions in the home.
  • Twelve percent of teens have experienced (participated in) a service-oriented event with a parent as an action of faith.
  • Five percent of families have participated in any type of worship experience outside of corporate worship.

If we truly do have a problem in our families and with the spiritual formation of our children, these statistics help to offer clarity as to the source of the problem—faith and spiritual formation is simply not a priority in the home. Instead, parents are abdicating their God-given responsibilities in favor of drive through religion that is served by Youth Ministers and other church leaders. This is in direct opposition to God’s direction to the Israelites that was given by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

 

Moses told the Israelites that if they would heed his direction, “then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you” (Deut 6:3). This direction applies just as well to Christians today. We have the opportunity and obligation to create a legacy of faithful, Christ-like living for generations to come.

Thanks to the Portland Wedding Florist for hosting my blog this week!