When the Church Hinders the Family

I mentioned earlier this week that my job has changed.  Serving as a Family Pastor has unique challenges.  For some people, they may think that I am going to provide specific help in family situations.  For others, they think that I will be overseeing all children’s and student ministries at the church.  Some people may think I will provide the family with unique training events and such.

Actually, all of that is true.

But it is so much more.

We are talking about a complete church paradigm shift.

It is a shift from expecting the church to evangelize and disciple your children.  It is the rejection of parental apathy concerning your children’s spiritual development.  It is the return to the biblical mandate in which the home is the most critical, pivotal, spiritual environment in which one will ever experience.

Here are some of the things I am pondering on the 3rd day of my job:

The Family Unit is Essential in the Process of Discipleship

I will never forget that pivotal moment in my life when I held my firstborn child for the very first time. Right then, I experienced overwhelming joy, and at the same time, unbelievable responsibility. God had given me a baby boy that he was calling me to raise and nurture. I felt more than unqualified — I was terrified. I did not want Obadiah to miss God’s best because I could not fulfill my God-given role.


During that summer, the time also came for me to declare my focus for my doctoral project at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The focus of this evangelism and church growth project was supposed to be something that would stretch me as a student and benefit my church at the same time. Most of the declared emphases centered around ministry-focused outreach efforts.

As I prayed for my specific direction, Obadiah kept coming to my mind. I felt a burden for the children of my church, North Side Baptist, as well.

Beyond our church context, I was also noticing alarming cultural trends. It seemed like our ministry efforts in America for the next generation were more polished than ever before and yet we were simply losing that generation. Even with the decent number of those in the upcoming generations attending church at that time, change seemed only temporary for the very few taking seriously the claims of Christ. Throughout America, many churches had more bells and whistles than at any other time, and yet we were experiencing minimal success.

The reason so many people are leaving the church is because parents have expected the organization of the church to do what God has called them to do.

During my time of prayer and study, the direction became clear. The focus of my study was going to be on how to equip parents to evangelize and disciple their children. I could not imagine anything with a greater possibility to change our church than if our parents saw it as their God-given responsibility to make disciples out of the next generation.

One of my greatest goals as Family Pastor will be to equip parents to evangelize and disciple their own children.

If you are like me, you have witnessed things in our church culture that are alarming. The more we invest into the programs of local churches, the more we see many disturbing trends which enable parents to be passive in their children’s spiritual formation.

We must stop relying on church programs to do what God has called parents to do.

Why is such a shift needed?  I’m glad you asked.

#1. The Bible Prioritizes the Family

The first rationale is that the Bible commands parents to evangelize and disciple their children. The scriptural mandate, indicated throughout the entire Bible, for a child’s spiritual development is unashamedly centered around the home. The New Testament church saw fathers’ leading the home spiritually as so important that if a father did not fulfill his parental responsibility, he was unfit for church leadership positions (1 Tim 3:4-5).

For some parents, the problem is not they do not know how to invest in their children spiritually; they simply do not see that act as a priority.

Most American parents view children’s spiritual development as a positive element in child rearing, but they do not see it as the most important element. Parents have often developed misplaced priorities when it comes to their children. Many children in America are so busy with numerous activities that their spiritual lives are neglected.

While it is a lofty goal for a child to receive a great education or to have a financially secure life, that ambition is not God’s most important goal for parents. If God views children as a gift to parents (Ps 127:3), then parents need to conform their perspective of parenting to God’s perspective. Voddie Baucham stated, “There are many worthwhile pursuits in this world, but few of them rise to the level of training our children to follow the Lord and keep his commandments.”

God left no room for misunderstanding in the area of parental responsibility.

Parents are required to teach the children to love God (Deut 6:4-9), and they are expected to teach them that truth in every arena in life (Deut 11:18-21). A parent ought to teach children to love God more than they love their own parents (Matt 10:37). Solomon exhorted that a well-instructed child would not likely depart from the teaching of his or her parents (Prov 22:6). Through these examples and more, the Bible is clear in revealing that God’s desire is for parents who own the responsibility to raise their children spiritually.

#2. Current Church Programming Isn’t Working

The second rationale is that churches must address the fact that many children raised in the church are walking away from that institution once they leave home. Even if they are in the minority that attend a church, many of their lives are far cries from biblical living.  The easy-believism model is sweeping that generation that says you can go to a church on Sunday to cover up an ungodly lifestyle throughout the week.

Why is this happening?  Because real, legitimate walks with Christ were never witnessed in the home!

For most congregations, the significant investment towards children and youth is providing a minimal return. While these students are active in church when they are at home due to sincere desire or parental prodding, once they leave home for college, churches will lose a large percentage of these students.

Although the research varies slightly, most records indicate that between 70 and 88 percent of Christian students are absent from the local church by the time they enter their second year of college. Those numbers scream that something is missing. Every dollar spent on nursery cribs to youth trips to graduation Bibles seems to be in vain when students apparently vanish from church for years after high school graduation.

Many students stop growing in Christ because a walk with Christ is not witnessed in the home.

Instead of modeling that type of relationship with God, parents hope that by bringing their children to church, someone else will take care of their children’s spiritual health. If that is the sole parental input into a child’s spiritual development, a child will experience great spiritual struggles once he or she leaves the home.

Bringing children to church will not save them. While parents ought to bring children to church functions, the probability of children remaining involved in a church once they leave home based upon mere church exposure once or twice a week during childhood is minimal. Many children in America are so busy with activities in academics, athletics, or some other endeavor that their spiritual lives are not valued or prioritized.

#3. The Church Should Assist the Parents to Do Their Job (Not the Other Way Around)

A third rationale is that, in order to ensure the greatest success, parents and the local church must partner together to evangelize and disciple the children. If parents are to teach their children the ways of the Lord, they must be intentional about bringing spirituality into their conversations.

Some parents, upon realization of the biblical mandate for parenting, are too guilty to admit they have neglected spiritual conversations in the home and are too ashamed to make the needed change in their homes. Unfortunately, multiple families are simply too disinterested in making Christ the center of their homes.

Many parents expect the church to do all the work associated with their children’s spiritual upbringing.

Parents’ general attitude towards their involvement normally consists of connecting their children with the most qualified professionals leading the most appealing programs and then stepping out of the professionals’ way. How can parents safely assume that another person will have as much concern about their child’s salvation as they will themselves?

Due to seemingly sufficient children programming in churches, parents have eased into complacency regarding their children’s spiritual development.

Nevertheless, a church staff and the children’s parents must agree upon a biblical, healthy partnership to give each child the best opportunity to follow Christ.

Additionally, many de-churched young adults have lost contact with their spiritual mentors from youth. In light of the high turnover rate of pastoral staffs in churches, many of these spiritual mentors for young people are replaced within a short amount of time causing a lack in consistent spiritual leadership. Plus, once one group graduates, a new group of students take their place and require the student pastor’s limited time and attention.

Many college students were involved in a church, especially their youth group, in middle school and high school. Once they got away from home, however, they stopped growing in Christ and connecting to a church. If a relationship with God had been mentored by a student’s parents and not merely a church staff member, the student would continue to have access to his or her mentors while in college.

The Greatest Sermon

Something exists in the heart of children to watch their parents do what they cannot do yet. They stand in awe at early ages of what their parents can do.

I don’t care if my children are impressed by the house in which we live, the details of our vacation spots, or the hobbies that I master. I want them to see me living for Christ all of their days. When asked about their greatest spiritual mentors, I pray that they model after the ministers in our church, but how I deeply want to make that list as well.

Could I live in such a way that my children would know what it means to follow Christ if no one else taught them but me? Can I model obedience to God rather than just mentioning its importance?

This world is a challenging place for a child to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. The solution is not the hippest youth minister in town, the most alluring programs, or the church gymnasium where all the cool kids hang out. The solution for your children is you. Children need their parents to invest spiritually in their lives. We need to be the ones telling them the gospel. We need to be the ones modeling what it looks like to live for Christ.

A parent’s life should be the greatest sermon a child ever hears.

If that idea is intimidating to you, I promise that you are not alone. Every honest parent would admit that evangelizing and discipling one’s children is a daunting task. While the challenge is great, disciples are known by their willingness to risk everything and be used by God in what seems improbable or even impossible.

You have a limited window of time with your children in their formative years. How will you spend it? You may be an empty-nester who has a list of regrets longer than your list of approved accomplishments, but it is not too late to make an impact on your children. We are all leaving a legacy, but it has yet to be declared what each of ours will be.

No one leaves a godly legacy by accident.

I have never been so excited about an opportunity.  I have seen polished children’s programs.  I have seen trendy youth events.  I have yet to see a church who equips families to be all God expects them to be.

Please pray for me, our team, and our church as we attempt to lead a biblical family ministry.  I cannot begin to tell you how much I would appreciate those prayers.



8 thoughts on “When the Church Hinders the Family”

  1. I agree with everything you are saying here, however I don’t understand your title much. If anything I would think it would say “When the family uses the church to hinder the family”… I feel that your title is going against what you are saying… However, I agree with you points. Excellent.

    • Craig, thanks for the encouragement and the feedback. I am implying that churches’ structures often enable parents to back off. Voddie Baucham once put, “We have been telling parents for the last 30 years, ‘Don’t try this at home, we are trained professionals.'”

      • Understandable. It is extremely sad the number of families and parents that seem completely oblivious to what is happening in their children’s lives. Of course it is by God’s grace. I can easily fall into that as well.

  2. Wow! What blessings your church is going to receive.

    Here is the question(s) of the day… HOW do you disciple kids who have an innate sense of being deserving of everything and then some? HOW do you get them to listen when they spend more time on an iPad or XBox or WiiU than they spend with the parents who have tried to love, care and provide them with things that they didn’t have? Finally, HOW do you get them to live God’s truth when they sigh and roll their eyes every time you point out a ‘life lesson’ from God’s Word and you just lived it in front of them….?

    Questioning in Springfield, MO

    • Thanks for the kind words, Scott. Regarding your questions, it is definitely a process. If I were in your shoes, I would try to make baby steps of progress. Maybe by start doing something really fun for them with some intentionality. If a family Bible study could start a revolt on your hands, that means that 1) you really need to do it, and 2) you will really have to be creative to perk their interest.

  3. Thank you for your passion and challenge. I can relate with the comment by Springfield MO. I have made the mistake of pushing our girls too much toward God, because I know how important it is, yet find them resistant. I pray we can learn, as you said, to lead them to Christ more through how we live than whether we insist they are in church activities. Some of the best conversations we’ve had about Jesus is while we’re driving in the car to school or an appointment. I have to remember that our Father is never pushy or imposing, but he he is relentless in his pursuit of our hearts….

    • I have lived in fear due to stories you hear of people who had religion forced on them and they turned away from it. In my conversations though, I have never heard someone respond like this, “You know my parents loved Jesus so much. They were great with one another. They really cared for me. And they taught me with the words and lifestyle that Jesus should be the center of my life and that just got on my nerves.”

      I normally hear: “My parents forced religion on me but it never made a difference in our home.”

  4. Travis, your article rings so true. I’ll never forget in 1991 when I was convicted that our family needed a complete makeover. I sat at the kitchen table and told my children that I was sorry that I had not been living the life God wanted me to live, and that I had not been the mother that God had called me to be. I asked their forgiveness, then promised to do better with God’s help. Over the next year, God called us to take our kids out of public school and begin homeschooling them. I read about how God was going to raise up a generation of righteous children who would seek His heart. I wanted to believe it – but it was hard, because in my own life, I had never seen it. Was it possible to raise children with pure hearts, who would seek after God, in the culture in which we live? Was it possible to raise children who would remain – not only physically pure, but emotionally and spiritually pure… especially when that is something that I had not lived in my own life? It was hard to believe, but I knew it was what God was calling me to do. I remember praying one night and telling God that I had no idea how to do it, but that I would do whatever he showed me to do. And He did show me – one step at a time. I know we did not do it perfectly, but God is perfect and He was the one doing it. And while he was doing it – my husband and I learned as much or more along the way than our children.

    My daughter was in 6th grade and my son was in 3rd the year we started homeschooling. Ten years later my daughter graduated from BJU and became the music director of a local church. She is my classical music, very traditional young lady. Two years after that she married a godly young man. She had promised God that she would guard her heart until it was time to give it to her husband. This was a promise that came from her own relationship with Jesus– not any idea or expectation that I put in her mind. Their first kiss was at the altar. God enabled her to keep that promise. Today she is homeschooling her own young children and teaching them about the love of Jesus. My little granddaughter in kindergarten can already spout out more Scripture by heart than I can – and loves that she can remember verses faster than her Granny.

    My son graduated from Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville in 2011. A year later, he and his wife planted a new church in Chattanooga, and last Easter they celebrated their first anniversary. He was my rocknrolling child. Their church has more of a casual dress and hard hitting Bible study flavor. They now have a 2 year old son, along with a growing community of sweet families in their church.

    Each child had their own walk with God, according to their talents and personality, but they both live for the Lord.
    I look back over the last 23 years and I still don’t know how God has accomplished all that He has, except to say that He is Faithful to do what He has promised. I can imagine some readers rolling their eyes, or thinking, “yea, right! Fine for you to pull your kids out of school, but that’s not possible for me.” I know that not every family can leave the public schools and educate at home, but like you said, every family has the ability to pull out of an ungodly culture and bring the family back home for a makeover. The key is a convicted heart and the desire to do it. We saw what the world was doing in our lives and in the lives of our kids, and it broke our hearts. That is when we were ready to let God take over and teach us all how to live for Him. If anyone out there wants to make this change – the first step is just agreeing with God, then making up your mind and committing with your heart to do it.

    I commend you for taking up the mantle to teach the families in your church how to follow God – as a family. The church we were in while homeschooling went so far as to teach classes as units, instead of separating by ages we attended as families. There children learned the Bible at the feet of their father and mother – who were also learning the Bible. Not all churches can go that far, but with desire to follow God, anyone can find a way that fits. I’ll be praying for you and your church as you continue this adventure. Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

    Edgefield, SC

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