Why the Church Can’t Replace the Family

Connecting Church and Home: How to create a grace-based partnership between the church and family.

Strong churches don’t make strong families; strong families make strong churches.

We need strong churches and we need strong families regardless of who rubs the other’s back the most. We need these because the big story isn’t about churches, families, pastors or parents.

It’s about God!

When we do the math, we realize that the family and the church are the only two true cradle-to-the-grave entities that God created to carry out his primary kingdom agenda. The most effective way to evangelize anyone is to have them raised in a family where the mother and father deeply love, trust and serve God. And likewise, the most effective way to disciple anyone is to have him or her raised by parents who love, trust and serve God. When we in ministry embrace this reality, the spiritual stock value of both the church and its families goes up.

Parents are trying to raise their kids in a culture that’s antagonistic to just about every biblical principle and spiritual value they embrace. It’s an overly sexualized culture that is high on the cocaine of competition and comparison, dominated by emotional thinking and snookered by the success illusion. On top of that, many parents naturally assume that the spiritual heavy-lifting required to raise effective Christian kids can only be done by evangelical professionals. So, when it comes to raising kids who have a passionate love for Christ, too many parents simply feel unqualified and out-gunned.

Unfortunately, churches falsely think they are ready to meet this challenge with their state-of-the-art facilities and second-to-none programs. After a while the “professionals” realize that all this subcontracting of the parent’s responsibilities has left them feeling like they’re little more than program directors on evangelical cruise ships.

Two Kids, Two Families, One Church

There are two sets of parents in our church who had sons around the same time. The one set of parents felt ill-equipped to transfer a passionate heart for God to their son but assumed that the church could/should cover that need on their behalf. The other set of parents felt ill-equipped to transfer a passionate heart for God to their son, but assumed that God would empower them to do so as they leaned on him. They appreciated any coaching our church would give them on this.

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Our church spent the same money, provided the same facilities, sent these boys to the same camps, assigned them the same small group mentors, provided them with the same children’s and student’s pastors, and took them on the same mission trips. Yet the boys turned out very differently. The son of the first set of parents accepted Christ’s offer of salvation from his sins, but never seemed to move beyond a remedial spiritual level. The son of the second set of parents ultimately headed into adulthood with a passionate heart for Jesus.

There will always be exceptions to this phenomenon, but for the most part the outcome tends to follow the same course. Committed Christian parents tend to produce a more committed offspring. Parents who expect the church to imbed that commitment into their children on their behalf tend to send kids into adulthood struggling to put their full faith in God.

I would be quick to admit that strong families tend to be the exception rather than the rule in our churches. Churches are primarily spiritual hospitals for the broken, battered and bewildered. All of us find ourselves in that category to some degree.

Churches must always provide a spiritual emergency room for the hurting and discouraged people who show up, as well as high quality children and youth ministry for every type of child. The problem is that these standard features will always struggle to see the kinds of results we’re praying for and working towards. The most effective church ministry is ministry whose root system is imbedded in the home. We need to be deliberate about coaching parents on how to take Jesus home so that they’re more likely to be bringing their family to church each Sunday on “full” rather than “empty.”

Our tactical and strategic mindsets could easily assume that what I’m talking about here is training parents on subjects like:

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• How to pray with their kids and do family devotions from the Bible.
• Teaching them how to protect their kids from the sinful culture around them.
• Giving parents a checklist of acceptable Christian practices and showing them how to get their kids to walk accordingly …

You know, the standard image-control and sin-management programs that are so easy to get sucked into. My observation is that if that’s the direction a church goes, its leaders (as well as its parents) are going to be extremely disappointed in the outcome. Fear-based parenting, spiritual performance-based parenting, and emotional reaction-based parenting are bankrupt hands. These all might be very well-intended, but are ultimately misguided. Why? Simple: they don’t launch from the heart of the gospel.

A Grace-Based Church

John 1:24 reminds us that Jesus was filled with grace and truth. This wasn’t a 50/50 split. It was 100 percent truth and a 100 percent grace. In Christian work, we tend to camp on the truth side. For one thing, it’s the easiest one to teach. It’s also the easiest one to quantify. But I think the bigger reason we camp on the truth side of the equation is because it is the one we, as church leaders and parents, can effectively do without having to surrender the steering wheel of our lives completely to Jesus.

Grace is different. It is giving a person something they desperately need but don’t deserve. That’s hard to do in our own power. Actually, what I just said is a misstatement. I should have said, “That’s impossible to do in our own power.” Like the song says, we’ve got to let “Jesus take the wheel.”


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