Reaching the Next Generation of Evangelists

What does it look like to raise children who not only love Jesus, but also have a desire to share the gospel with their generation?

My wife and I have spent three decades praying, learning, teaching, and seeking to raise children who not only love Jesus, but who have a desire to share the gospel with their generation. This has not been an easy journey. Our boys went through the public school system, they had many friends who were far from God, spent time in the homes of non-believers, and played on community sports teams.

All along the way we talked with them, tried to train them in faith, and coached them on how to walk with Jesus and share His grace with others. In addition, we sought to turn our home into a lighthouse that drew in people who were far from God.

We allowed our three sons to succeed and make mistakes, engage in the church and live in the world, as well as get very close to people who were very far from God. Our hope and prayer was that each of them would come to Love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. We also did all we could to help each of them find their own voice and way of sharing their faith with others.

When we wrote the book, Organic Outreach for Families, Turning You Home Into a Lighthouse, we invited each of our boys to share some of their journey of learning to live for Jesus in an increasingly secular world. They also wrote about what it was like to grow up in a home that was designed to be a place where the light and love of Jesus was not only experienced, but also shared with our neighbors and community.

Our oldest son, Zach, is just finishing his final year of seminary and will soon be a pastor. He wrote these reflections about growing up as a follower of Jesus in a postmodern world:

Parents raising children today should be aware that they are doing so in in a postmodern world. What is postmodernism? Professor and author Elizabeth Wilson says, “Postmodernism refuses to privilege any one perspective, and recognizes only difference, never inequality, only fragments, never conflict.” Postmodern people believe that everyone has a different point of view, but no one has a better perspective than anyone else. Opinions, no matter how different and distinct, never conflict with another, because our viewpoints are only a matter of opinion. What is good for one person may not be good for another. As long as laws are not being broken and people are not being hurt, a person should be able to live the way they want, one person’s truth is just that, one person’s truth.

The rise of postmodernism and the resulting loss of a universal standard of truth shouldn’t surprise us. Humanity has been trying to find answers to life’s biggest questions since the beginning of the world, and postmoderns have simply concluded that there is no one, right answer to these important questions. Instead, they invite us to give up the search and embrace the world of relative truth. They believe religion has failed to provide a complete and coherent explanation of the world. But religion isn’t the only failed enterprise.  Science has also failed to provide truth that explains or validates why we exist. Since religion and science have failed, each individual must determine what is true for themselves. Postmodernists believe that truth is relative. No one viewpoint is correct. Truth is simply what is “right” for that individual.

The Word of God directly confronts this way of thinking. The Bible tells us that we are fallen people with really messed up desires and minds. We can get into a lot of trouble by simply following what “feels right” for us. But this is the world we live in today, it’s the world I grew up in, and there is no getting around it. Children are taught from a young age to be tolerant of everything, as long as it does not cause them physical harm or infringe on the “rights” of others. Many young people have no idea that this perspective is engrained in their minds. Even though I was raised to know the truth of God’s Word, whenever I hear someone call something a “sin” or say that something is “wrong,” something deep inside of me still is inclined to respond, “You can’t tell me what is right and wrong, that’s just what you believe.”

Of course, that’s not what the Bible says. The Bible teaches us that there are things that are right and wrong. 2 Timothy 3:16 says the Bible is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” The Bible shows us who God is and what he expects of us.  It teaches us, challenges us, and corrects us, something we all need because we are wrong much of the time.

One of the greatest things a parent can do is teach their child to read and understand the Word of God. Unless a young person is committed to reading and believing Scripture, they will inevitably be drawn in by the cultural influence of postmodernism and a relative understanding of truth. Many young people today, even those in the church, already buy into this. Ultimately, it is rooted in a falling away from Scriptural truths. The Bible clearly teaches there are things that aren’t permissible by God. We go against his desire for us when we commit certain actions or harbor certain desires. We are blindly stumbling in the exact same way that everyone else is without the guidepost of Scripture.

A parent who wants their child to be a light in a dark world must model what a Christian looks like on a day-to-day basis and prepare them for a confused world with the unchanging truth of Scripture. Without this preparation, they will be just as lost as the next person. They need the definitive answers that come from God’s truth for life’s big questions. Without it, they will have the same uncertainty as everyone else.

My parents tried every possible thing they could to get me to read the Bible when I was young. My father would make up comprehensive reading guides and give us a reward if we completed them. We would read through a book of the Bible every time we went on vacation (usually a smaller book). Sometimes we were each asked to do our own devotion and then we would meet once a week to talk about it. My parents would always get us the type of Bible that we wanted (my favorite was the NIV Archeological Study Bible). Though they used different incentives and methods, the importance of Scripture was always emphasized.

The greatest service my parents did for me was not shoving their faith down my throat. The studying of the Bible was always strongly encouraged, but it was never forced. We may not have read the Bible as much as we could have, but our love for the Bible continued to grow.  I saw my parents reading the Bible everyday—not because they had to, but because they loved it. I’ll admit, this was often a mystery to me as a young child. But now I hope that I will pass that same legacy onto my children, a genuine love and hunger for the Word of God. —Zach Harney

I hope and pray my son’s reflections encourage you if you are raising children. There is no “one size fits all” approach. But there are tools and practices that can help you along the way. The first and most important practice that I have seen is living out your faith in front of your kids and letting them experience, firsthand, what it looks like when a person loves God, His Word, and lost and broken people.

From Outreach Magazine  Josh Howerton: Answering the Call—Part 1

This excerpt is taken from Organic Outreach for Families: Turning Your Home Into a Lighthouse by Kevin and Sherry Harney. © 2012 by Kevin and Sherry Harney. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Zondervan.