In our culture, we wear busyness like a badge. It might even be suggested that the busier you are the more important you are. And since we have grown accustomed to this idea, it is often very difficult to counteract the paradigm that our culture glorifies. The truth is that everyone starts every day with the exact same amount of time: 24 hours. When it comes down to it, how you spend that time is up to you. Yet, phrases like “there just isn’t enough time in the day” make their way into our everyday conversations. The truth is that we have all been given just as much time as everyone else – and it is up to us to decide how we use that gift. God designed the whole time system and he must have had enough foresight to make sure we had enough time to do the things that are important.
I think one of our most significant problems is simple yet very difficult to swallow: we spend a good deal of time doing things that don’t actually matter. I believe that Jesus’ church has for too long managed its time too much like everyone else: namely that we work too much and our kids are often overcommitted to a bunch of activities that have no eternal value. It is impossible to quantify just how responsible these two things have been in subtly undermining the fabric of the family and therefore, the fabric of His church.
Here is a short list of things I believe can stand in the way of discipling our families if we aren’t careful:
ONE // Extracurricular Activities
I believe that many well-meaning Christian parents are training their kids to become disciples of athletics and other extracurricular activities, often (and unintentionally) at the expense of training them to be disciples of Jesus. Many families have no extra time in their schedules because they are so busy running one child to soccer, picking another up from band rehearsal, and dropping their other child off at the dance studio. I don’t believe these things are inherently bad and can definitely be seen and used as environments where the family can extend the kingdom of God, but unfortunately I think this is more the exception than the rule.
We must be honest with ourselves and consider that where we invest the majority of our time and energy says something about our priorities and where our affection lies, about whom or what we worship. If we are teaching our kids that training in a classroom or on a field for 8 hours every week is necessary and admirable, and yet the extent of training them in faith is pulling out the aforementioned book to do a quick devotional before we send them off, we are teaching them an extremely powerful lesson. Parents are by far the biggest influencers in their children’s lives and frankly everyone else is nearly powerless when it comes to retraining hearts and minds to follow Jesus in a situation where the parents have trained them to be followers of something else. This of course is the truth at the heart of the matter: the primary place for discipleship is in the home. Every parent is training their children to be disciples; it is just a matter of what we are training them to follow.
TWO // Work, work, work
For most Americans, the 40 hour work week is the standard measurement of “full time”. However, in some cases it has become synonymous with “the least amount of hours you can work and get away with”. But did you know that the 40 hour work week was actually implemented as a safe guard against people working too much? Every developed country in the world has found it necessary to pass legislation in the form of labor laws preventing employers from taking advantage of their employees. This is because in a developing world, ‘development’ or ‘progress’ can easily become a god – and humans will do whatever it takes to pursue such an idol. What about before the world was full of ‘developed’ countries? While we tend to think of ancients as people who slaved away in the fields all day every day, it is academic consensus at this point that ancient cultures worked about 15-20 hours a week. In Agrarian cultures that exist today, the work week is less than 15 hours. Plus, in these types of culture work is often completed in the context of family.
There is no easy way to say this, but when people are on their death bed they never think, “I wish I would have spent more time at the office”. Why? Because in those moments it is easy to see that making a god out of work is a fleeting objective with real casualties. Our primary vocation as parents is raising our kids to love and follow Jesus with their whole lives and if we aren’t present in their lives it is impossible to have the kind of influence God intended. The old adage is true, “we work to live, rather than live to work”. We should invest ourselves into our work for the glory of God, but when working becomes a hindrance to discipling our children we should step back and re-evaluate whether we will be happy with how we spent this time when we are on our deathbed.
THREE // Programmed Christianity
Unfortunately, even ‘church’ things can get in the way of following Jesus and discipling your family. Church programming is a tool that can be employed for multiple good reasons – but it can actually be damaging to our pursuit of the kingdom and the health of our families if we don’t pay attention to these two significant dangers:
· It can contribute to the mess we’ve made of our schedules. We can end up neglecting our primary discipleship role in the name of ‘following Jesus’. This is tragic irony. The truth is that if we don’t show up for the organized service-project other people will; if we don’t show up as the mom and dad for our kids, no one else will. And when combined with the rest of our busy lifestyle, our physical absence leaves us little room for the very thing we are seeking to display: spiritual leadership. If serving alongside our church body is a priority for us, that is amazing… but something has to lose out because of it and it shouldn’t be time with our family.
· We can come to rely on the organizational leaders of the church for our children’s spiritual health. It is an unhealthy situation when a family becomes dependent on the programs in their local body for their spiritual health. Yet, advanced involvement in the local church’s activities is often seen as the indicator of a Christ centered family. The truth is that we are each responsible for the spiritual health of our children and depending on the organizational leaders of the church is a losing proposition. Kids only spend 2-3 hours each week in church programs; they spend their whole lives with us.
What it all comes down to is this: time is perhaps the most valuable resource we have been given and we would do well to steward it for kingdom purposes. You have 16 hours of awake time today; that’s 112 hours this week. You have 52 weeks this year and roughly 75 years on this earth. Now subtract your age from 75. You don’t have much time left. You only live once.