By design God intends that families and churches cooperate in rising up the next generation of fully committed followers of Jesus Christ. It is a mistaken assumption that either families or the church are solely responsible for and distinct from one another in the development of making disciples. God’s plan as revealed in Scripture is that families would be the primary disciplers of their children and teenagers while the church extends and complements the disciple-making ministry.
Deuteronomy 6:4—9, a passage known as “The Shema,” is a summary confession of the Christian faith by which God’s people acknowledge the One True God and His designed plan for our lives. The passage reveals a pattern that helps God’s people relate His plan and His Word into our daily lives. According to The Shema, Christians are to love God, think constantly about His commandments, teach His commandments to our children, and live each day by the guidelines of His Word. The passage pointedly emphasizes the importance of parent’s teaching the Bible to their children. It is important to note that God revealed this designed plan for the families’ spiritual leadership in the lives of their children before He revealed His designed plan for the church’s spiritual leadership in the lives of people.
Though there is not a single verse that defines the purpose of the church, the New Testament is full of descriptive responsibilities given the church. The church is to worship God (Luke 4:8, John 4:23), study His Word (2 Timothy 2:5), pray (Acts 2:42), love one another (John 13:35), partake of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Mark 16:165, Luke 22:19-20), learn how to live as godly people (Titus 2:11-12), and be equipped and sent out to evangelize the world (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:12). Acts 2:42 provides a solid summary of what ought to take place when believers gather together in Christian community: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. (Acts 2:42). All churches should model themselves after this verse. Furthermore, God has given the church pastors so that the body of believers gathered would be trained in the work of ministry and built up as the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12).
Unfortunately, God’s designed plan has been lost in translation over the past two millenniums. A striking conclusion must be drawn: on the grounds of making disciples, the family begins the process while the church complements the ministry that is already taking place within the family. God has never intended for the church to be the primary or sole spiritual influence in a child or teenagers life. When the family shrugs their responsibility and relies solely on the church to make “good Christians” of their children or teenagers, they deny God’s designed purpose and the whole process breaks down. This striking conclusion is derived from Scripture but is also apparent on a pragmatic level: families live, sleep, and eat with children and teenagers for seven days a week, while the church has them for only a couple of hours each week. Clearly, based on God’s design and revealed will, families and churches must cooperate in rising up adolescent and teenage disciples of God.
The church at large is doing well to identify God’s design for cooperation between families and churches, but rarely does this identification morph into practical guidance and instruction on how this is to practically play out. That is why this student pastor desires to take this issue head-on over the next few weeks, laying out a plan with practical steps as to how families can work together with their church in fulfilling their roles and purposes in being used of God to lead children and students to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
In Christ, John Howard, Minister to Students, First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, IL
(Writer’s note: please check back periodically as this series on “Designed Cooperation” unfolds.)