I believe in small groups. In fact, I think small groups are one of the most important things a church can do to encourage people to grow in their relationships with God and one another. But this saying is true: God has already organized the church into small groups called “families”. Ever since I became a father in 2009, God has convicted me repeatedly of this truth. As a pastor, I wrestle with these things daily as I reflect on my life. How can I lead others into a deep relationship with God if I am not doing the same thing at home? If I cannot be open, authentic, and genuine with my own wife and children, why am I trying to achieve those things with others? I cannot escape the feeling that I am a fraud when I stand up to teach if I am not having transformative conversations with the people I actually live my life with. The truth is, the opportunity I have to disciple my own children is the highest responsibility I have been given and I must do it well. As Harold Lee said, “The most important of the Lord's work you will ever do, will be the work you do within the walls of your own home.”
Perhaps the gravest danger we face as the church in America is the erosion of the family unit. When I think about erosion, my mind almost immediately goes toward divorce. The community that marriage is supposed to provide is deeply fractured by divorce, leaving everyone involved broken and hurt. Sarah Dressen, a popular author, described her experience like this: “… in the real world, you couldn’t really just split a family down the middle, mom on one side, dad the other, with the child equally divided between. It was like when you ripped a piece of paper into two: no matter how you tried, the seams never fit exactly right again. It was what you couldn't see, those tiniest of pieces that were lost in the severing, and their absence kept everything from being complete.” God designed the family unit to be complete, to be a picture of wholeness and when it is fractured we miss out on an intimate experience of community intended to help us understand God and the world more deeply. Simply stated, our relationships with our parents define a whole lot of who we are and how we see the world. As Jared Kintz said,“ My two parents represent the single greatest influence on my life. And if my dad had been there for me, it would be the double greatest influence on my life. ”
But I think Satan does his work of eroding families in a much more subtle way than divorce, especially in the church. It is a widely accepted view in our circles that the father in each family unit should be the spiritual leader, a view expressed by Paul in the NT – but what if the father is only around the children for an hour or two when he gets home from work 3 nights a week and spends the other nights out doing other things? And then if he only sees them for a few hours on the weekend between playing a round of golf and keeping the yard looking good? And what if the kids are off playing their sports, learning their dances, practicing their instruments, or doing their homework while he is home? This is an honest question: Is he really being the spiritual leader of the household? This situation is considered quite “normal” these days. Sometimes it is because the father is doing whatever he can to give his children things he never had. His motives are good and his intentions are sincere. But as one author suggests, “sometimes we are so eager to give our children what we didn't have that we forget to give them what we did have”. In an attempt to fulfill the role of “provider” well, many fathers are missing out on the opportunity to disciple their children well.
Another common theme is that the family is caught up in the busyness of the world. I know many families that are gone 4 of the 5 weeknights each week because of commitments they have made to a variety of things. Psychologist Kevin Leman suggests “there’s no use trying to build a beautiful house on a titled foundation. If you truly want to make your family life more meaningful, you’re going to have to give up a few things. No more running around five out of five weekday evenings. I’d say if you’re gone more than 2 evenings a week, something needs to give”. This sounds radical to most of our ears. One of the most common arguments to his suggestion is that kids will miss out on activities that everyone else gets to do. The irony is that they are already missing out on family time. He comments that he never has anyone in his office cherishing the memories of practicing soccer 5 nights a week – the memories they relish from their years at home are the times when the whole family was gathered together, enjoying one another’s company.
As Mother Theresa said, the best thing you can do to promote world peace is to “go home and love your family.” As people who now live under the rule of God in His eternal kingdom, “we no longer have the luxury of spending our energy on anything that does not lead us and our families to Christ.”
These words written by Abigail Van Buren challenge me: “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money on them.”
As the great cloud of witnesses ahead of us, let us be sincerely interested in leading our families into Christ-likeness and may we exemplify a willingness to do whatever it takes to make it happen -- no matter how counter cultural it may be. I simply pray that the church becomes more aware of the work Satan is doing to convince us that there are other things that take priority over discipleship. I hope you join me on my journey to continue understanding how we can protect our families and lead them into true love for God and love for one another.