By Eric Wallace
The latest research reveals that 75% of the children raised in evangelical churches are leaving the faith. It appears that the church is hemorrhaging its covenant children out into the culture. Did Peter know something that we don’t when he preached, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off…”?
A heart for seeing this promise fulfilled is what brought together 20 passionate leaders from around the PCA on May 4th to discuss the 2020 Vision Strategy for Growing the Church Through Ministry to Youth and Children.
Having been a children’s ministry leader in the PCA, and having met many children’s and youth ministry leaders over my 21 years of ministry, I can say that the efforts of the men and women who faithfully and lovingly serve on staff are not in question. In fact, the problems we see cannot be laid at the feet of these programs.
I submit, as I did at this meeting, that we’ve lost sight of some very basic biblical principles. A renewed focus on these principles could make the difference in seeing Peter’s promise move from elusive dream to reality.
On one hand, Children and Youth ministry leaders are saying, “We’re doing all we can, but we can’t disciple children in one hour per week. We need parents to step up to the plate.” On the other hand, parents are maxed out, stressed out, and sometimes checked out of the daily process of making kingdom disciples of their own covenant children.
The Word of God Provides the Solution in a Simple Pattern
What does God’s word tell us about how God expects us, through the power of His Holy Spirit, to establish covenant faithfulness in the home? I begin with a short story.
I remember one Christmas Eve becoming quite frustrated while putting together a toy for my son. I finally, humiliatingly, after two hours of exasperation, found the directions and actually read them. I learned that I had missed an important step. I imagine anyone reading this has had the same experience at some time or another. The pieces are all there, but they were not put together in proper order. Successful completion of the project remains elusive until we read, or re-read, the directions.
What we discussed at the May 4th meeting was a sort of “re-reading” of the directions for making kingdom disciples.
Very simply, it looks like this:
The Simple Pattern for Covenant Faithfulness in the Church and in the Home
- There is a presupposed pattern submitted to, pursued, and applied for God’s glory and our good, which when rightly applied has one central motive.
- The aim of this pattern is heart-level obedience. (True godly desires verses bare-legalistic duty-oriented behavior).
- Heart-level obedience is lived out through heart-level relationships with God and one another (You shall love the Lord your God…and your neighbor…) which are the ultimate end to which we are all accountable.
- This heart-level obedience and these relationships are not indiscriminate but maintained along covenantal lines (e.g. marriage, family, church).
- The primary methodology of growth in regards to heart-level obedience and heart-level relationships is speaking the truth (the gospel) in love within these relationships, for which we are all accountable to know and to be known.
- This growth, otherwise referred to as sanctification or renewal in the likeness of Christ, involves putting off the old man with its lusts and putting on the new man (Christ in you). The love that comes from Christ to God and others, being rooted in the accomplishment of Christ and applied by faith, makes covenant faithfulness not only possible but expected, and not a burden but a joy.
- Heads of Households are men (or single women, or women unequally yoked to a non-believer) with the responsibility of overseeing this heart-level transformation for their households.
- Overseers (elders) are men assigned to see to it that this transformation is being faithfully maintained in the broader Household of God (the Church). Practically speaking, overseers accomplish their jobs primarily by graciously equipping and holding responsible those whom God holds accountable (heads of households).
How to Re-emphasize This Pattern
The challenge that we began to discuss at the 2020VISION meeting was how to re-emphasize this basic pattern in our churches.
I will begin by stating what this does not mean. It does not mean a jihad against church programs. Truth is, these programs can actually help facilitate the re-establishment of this pattern and even enrich it. But let’s be clear, if the simple pattern is not vigorously and intentionally at work, these programs carry a load they were never intended to carry and as we have seen cannot fabricate covenant faithfulness.
What this does mean – In the midst of supporting our Children’s, Youth, and Sunday School ministries, this pattern should be heartily pursued no matter what else is happening programmatically because it represents what God has already clearly revealed in His word to guide us.
The place to start is with the establishment of this basic pattern of covenant faithfulness in the entire body of Christ. The big picture is beautifying the Church: the Bride of Christ. Do we really believe Ephesians 4:15-16? Are we building each other up by speaking the truth to one another in love? Faithful shepherding-and accountability-by the elders of the heads of households to fulfill their role is a clear biblical element that must be re-established if we are to accomplish covenant faithfulness and produce kingdom disciples.
Heads of households pursuing covenant faithfulness in the home is not a’ nice-to-have’, but a primary, foundational and non-optional element in the church’s ministry.
This represents an exciting challenge for elders, ministry leaders, heads of households, Christian Education and Publications and Great Commission Publications. The need for resources now extends well beyond curriculum for classrooms and includes resources for elders and heads of households to help them grow in their understanding and application of this biblical model.
Our rich covenantal theology has given us a simple pattern that we must livein order to see Peter’s promise realized in our time…and beyond.