Moved by Compassion: A Heart for World Missions
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The Essential Role of the Family in World Evangelization
by Dr. Rob Reinow
In Matthew 28, Jesus gave the Great Commission to His followers, “Make disciples.” I have little doubt that you would say you desire to be a Great Commission Christian. We want to see people repent, believe in Christ, grow in Him, and engage in kingdom ministry. But how are we doing?
How Are We Doing?
Thom Rainer’s research reveals a disturbing answer. He surveyed Americans to determine what percentage of the population considered themselves to be Christians based on having put their faith in Christ. Of those born before 1946, he found that 65% identified themselves as Christians because of their decision to trust Christ as Lord and Savior. For those born between 1946 and 1964, the number dropped to 35%. For those born from 1965 to 1976, it fell still further to 15%.
In shocking conclusion, among those born between 1977 and 1994 only 4% identified themselves as having put their faith and trust in Christ.
Evangelism and discipleship are in crisis in the United States, and it is a generational crisis. While we are winning many adults to Christ, we are losing the souls of millions of our children.
What Can We Do?
Our instinct is to blame the church. We need a new youth pastor! But this crisis is not first and foremost a crisis of the Christian church, but rather of the Christian family. In the late 1800s, there was a clear understanding that the call to disciple children and teenagers was the responsibility of parents and grandparents, and it was a role that could not be delegated to anyone else.
During the 20th century, however, Christians began to reflect secular culture and adopted the model of delegation parenting. Do you want your kids to learn to play the piano? Get them a tutor. Do you want them to learn basketball? Get them a coach. Do you want them to learn about Jesus? Get them a youth pastor. Your job is simply to drive the minivan and drop them off at all the institutions that will train your children.
In the summer of 2004, this crisis became personal for me. I had no plans to pass my faith to my own children. I had been a youth pastor for 11 years and was passing my faith to everybody else’s children!
Personal repentance quickly spread to pastoral repentance. I had been ignorantly leading an unbiblical youth ministry. One of my favorite sayings was, “I have an unchanging message in a constantly changing package.” In other words, the message of the gospel is unchanging, but the methods I use to reach teenagers will be constantly adapting to meet the changing youth culture. Big problem!
The Bible is not silent on the method. God doesn’t say, “Here is the message of the gospel, get it to the next generation however you want.” Throughout the Scriptures, God gives His ordained method for “making disciples” of the next generation, and we have ignored it to the peril of our children’s souls.
What Must We Do?
What is that method? How has God ordained that the Great Commission be advanced to the next generation? God shouts the answer through the pages of Scripture. The family—parents and grandparents—are called to take the lead in the spiritual training of their children and grandchildren.
If we are passionate about reaching our communities, our nation, and the world for Christ, we must return to the biblical model of our churches and our homes partnering together for Christ and for His Kingdom.
Here are three theological principles I hope will spark conversation, debate, and transformation in your family and in your church:
Foundation #1: God created families to be discipleship centers.
There is a lot of talk in the evangelical church today about the importance of discipleship small groups. You have heard the buzz lines. “We need to do life together.” “Discipleship happens in the context of relationships.” “We need to return to authentic community.” I believe that God loves discipleship small groups. He just has another name for them. He calls them families.
He wants every person to be born into the ultimate discipleship small group—a Christian family. Are you looking for authentic community? Are you looking for people to be real and genuine? Go home. I am sure you will find real relationships there. God created the family to shape the heart of every member of the family with a deep and abiding love for Christ and for His Word.
Foundation #2: The biblical purpose of parenting and grandparenting is to impress the hearts of children with a love for God.
Many parents have wondered, “God, why did you give me these children?” It is vital that we understand the answer to the question. God gives children to human mothers and fathers with the calling on those parents to do all in their power to impress the hearts of their children with a love for God and guide them safely home to their Father in Heaven.
Foundation #3: God has designed the family as an essential engine of world evangelization through the power of multi-generational faithfulness.
God’s desire is to fill the earth, and ultimately the new earth, with worshippers of Christ. From the beginning in Genesis 1:28, the Bible teaches that a primary means of accomplishing this is for those who love Him to raise their children to love Him, who in turn raise their children to love Him. God created the family, under the equipping and accountability of the local church, to advance the gospel and the Great Commission to the ends of the earth!
If you are a mother or a father, a grandmother or a grandfather, your most important Christian mission in the world is to impress upon the hearts of your children and grandchildren a love for God. The Great Commission begins at home.