In a day when radical attempts are being made to redefine what it means to be a family, the need for Christians to understand the importance of family is greater then ever. Many Christians have adopted a cultural design for their families that looks a lot like the world around them. This was descriptive of me and my family until about three years ago when the extreme rebellion of our oldest child caused my wife and I to do the type of deep, heart-wrenching soul searching that is usually only brought on by trials.
What did we do wrong? Why didn't we recognize the signs sooner? What if? What now? These are just a few of the questions that we poured over again and again. Prayers, tears, bible study, counsel, and reflecting on the conclusions of three books, George Barna's Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, Ted Tripp's Shepherding a Child's Heart, and Keeping Our Children's Hearts by Steven and Teri Maxwell, have brought us to a short set of resolves that have radically reformed our view of family life. It's important to let you know that throughout our marriage we have been very active in church and thought that we were doing things the "right" way most of the time.
There are few things in life that you can be absolutely certain of but one of them is that family relationships are meant to be vitally important at all times. So much of what we experience in this life is a picture of a greater truth and eternal reality. I believe that God instituted family because it gives us the best picture of the intensely intimate relationship that the Lord wants to have with us. You have heard that for children, love is spelled T-I-M-E. In reality the same is true for anyone who desires to be loved. The popular children's book Where the Wild Things Are contains a sentiment attractive to all of us. In this book, Max, a tired vanquished boy longs for the place "where someone loved him best of all." In most aspects of life we are encouraged to be selfless but when it comes to marriage and family we are granted the permission to have special and exclusive relationships. Just as God is our one and only, so our spouse should be too. The practical application of this realization is that it is okay to treat your home as a refuge for your family, it is essential to take time to go on dates with your spouse, and it is absolutely necessary for each of your children to receive special preferential attention. We are told that when Christ calls His church we will feast with Him (Rev. 19:7) and rule and reign with Him (Rev. 5:9-10). We will also worship together as a great family as children of God having been made brothers and sisters of Christ (Romans 8:11). We are also told that we will have our own one-on-one audience where we will be given a new name (Rev. 2:17).
If you have known Christ for long, then you are familiar with these facts but many in the body of Christ have failed to grasp that God intends for families to bond together and this requires an investment of time. In reality, most of us have exchanged the blessings of family for work (outside the home), church programming, sports, and entertainment. And many who read this article will feel a tinge of guilt but allow it to pass because they don't have the courage, energy, or know how to move away from the fractured life that they have been living. It is all that they have known and there are few examples of those who have chosen to do things differently.
God's blueprint for families varies as much as it does for individuals so we can never find the perfect family model. I would never advocate that anyone attempt to copy our family but there are some Biblical principles that we have discovered and put in force that have produced almost immediate positive results:
- Take radical steps to eliminate financial strain. The Bible says that the borrower is the lender's slave and slavery just doesn't make for good family life. Our family down-sized from a 2600 square foot, five bedroom home to a 1524 square foot, 3 bedroom home. We also resolved to stop borrowing money and stop using credit cards and started working extra part-time jobs. We were able to reduce our total debt from $204,000 to under $90,000 in two years time and are praying that God provides the means for us to eliminate it completely. The unity that this has brought in our marriage is wonderful! Two excellent organizations for Godly financial advice are Crown Financial and Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University.
- Be very careful about committing to any activity in which the whole family cannot participate together. This test will mean saying "no" to lots of things that split the family to the four winds. It may mean that your children have to take turns playing their sport or participating in extracurricular activities or foregoing them altogether. If God wants for someone in the family to have an exclusive opportunity (i.e., job for a teenager outside the home) He will usually give you a peace about breaking this rule but generally it should stay in force. No member of the family should feel exempt from this principle. For dad's, this may involve seeking a position that allows you to involve your children in your work. By the way, going to church activities where everyone splits off to an age-grade segregated classroom doesn't count as "participating together." When family members do something without the others, encourage them to tell the others about the event (who was there, what they learned, enjoyed or disliked) so that the family can benefit vicariously. Conversely if one family member misses a family activity make a special effort to let them know that they were missed and brief them on what happened.
- Get Unplugged! Limit computer use drastically. We have a schedule so the children know when they can use the computer each week. They have the freedom to use it for learning games. Cell phone use in children can increase their likelihood of developing brain cancer by 400 percent. Turn off the TV! Early exposure to TV is directly correlated with smaller vocabularies, video games alter brain chemistry and have proven negative effects on social skills. One of the benefits to us raising nine children in a small three bedroom home has been their willingness to play, discover, and work outdoors. In the last two years we have read more books (mostly missionary biographies and historical fiction) together, played more board games and yard games then we did in the previous sixteen years.
- Minister as a family. Allowing the children to give some of their tithe directly and seeing the impact that it had on them is one of the best things that we have ever done. One morning we secretly left a cash gift for a family at risk of losing their home and the children were more excited then they have been on a typical Christmas morning. We have visited the local assisted-living center, picked up trash in run down neighborhoods, delivered Christmas gifts to neighbors, and encouraged others to value life by holding up signs near the local Planned Parenthood office. Sharing reports from and praying for the missionaries that we support has also helped the kids know that they have a part in a larger work. We hope to participate in other mission activities in the future.
- Worship and pray together daily. Our daily devotionals vary in length depending on our schedule but usually contain three elements: singing worship songs, reading scripture, and praying together. I have known for many years that one excellent way to get to know someone is to listen to them pray but I really wasn't taking the time to listen to the prayers of my wife and children. I've discovered that I was really missing out. If you feel that your family is too busy to do this together, you may want to re-evaluate your priorities and remove less important things from your life.
- Provide your children the opportunity to get to know other Christian families as a family. This may sound rather old fashioned but don't knock it till you've tried it! We feel much more at ease with our kids getting to know other kids while we are near by and this gives us the opportunity to get to know the parents of our children's friends. We have experienced this most through church, homeschooling co-ops, and a local beekeeping association. One consistent comment that we receive from adults is that our children really converse with them! (What a concept, huh?) Unfortunately, children and teens today are accustomed to living days on end without having any deep conversations with any adults.
George Barna's research shows that our organizational efforts to raise children who develop into mature followers of Christ have failed. When I discovered Barna's book, I purchased a copy for all the leaders of the church where I was a part-time children's pastor because I was under the illusion that the answer was to tweak our church programming. However, I should have purchased a copy for every parent and grandparent because the heart of the issue is that Christian parents have become overly dependent upon external organizations, namely schools (public and christian) and churches, to raise their children. The very best discipleship programs are those that allow for instruction as you go through your daily life together. Deuteronomy 11:19 says "And you shall teach them (God's laws) to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." It is impossible to monitor and shape young lives for Christ if they are constantly being farmed out to other institutions. An excellent school and the very best church programming cannot take the place of a fully aware parent who embraces their role as the primary agent for seeing that their children's hearts are yielded to Christ.
My family has a list of goals that we call "Our Target." We review them from time to time and try to go back to them when we are making decisions or evaluating how we are doing as a family. Our list is still a work in progress. I'm sharing it with you but wouldn't recommend that you adopt it for your own family without prayerful discussion. Part of the fun and value of having family goals is working them out together. The work and the discussion help everyone understand the meaning and importance of them. Here's "Our Target:"
- Have fun together often.
- Stimulate a hopeful disposition with a constant appetite for Heaven and the eternal state.
- Encourage and train family members to be wise and faithful stewards of the resources placed under their control so that they will be responsible caretakers, generous givers, and cheerful tithers.
- Prayerfully arrange for family members to be mentored and befriended by people who will encourage them to discover and pursue God’s plan.
- Raise children who have an accurate understanding of their talents and gifts. Arrange opportunities for them to develop and employ their passions in the advancement of God’s kingdom through their daily life and vocation.
- Worship together in the home and with other members of the body of Christ.
- Discover the truth of God’s word together through regular Bible reading and study.
- Raise children who honor and respect their parents
- Raise children who desire to love the Lord with all their hearts and come to know Him as savior at an early age.
- Live other-centered lives.
- Honor one another through kind speech and loving actions.
- Testify about salvation through Jesus Christ – in word and deed.
- Glorify God – Serve the Lord with gladness and obedience.
My wife and I recognize that our efforts as parents, no matter how valiant, cannot assure that our children will make good choices but we are resolved to be aware of those choices and the conditions of our children's hearts. Our families are gifts from God to be cherished, nurtured, and enjoyed. If we are not careful and purposeful we will miss the blessing of knowing them as God intends.
Don Gordoni can be reached by email at Don.Gordoni.Creative@gmail.com.