by Bob Bever
The following story is provided by our INCM/CPC Partner Gospel Light.
After eighty seven years he finished well. Fourteen great-grandchildren, eleven who have given their young hearts to Jesus (the other three are still just beginning life). They all sang “Jesus Loves Me” at his celebration service. Then there are eight grandchildren who shared with everyone there the impact of his love for Jesus on their lives. One of them is a Children’s Pastor, one a Bible teacher at a Christian school and all are involved in their churches and missions.
And each of his four children tearfully, yet gratefully shared about the ways this humble, unassuming man had molded and shaped their lives. They spoke of how he had lived his life faithfully before them in the small things and showed them what it means to love Jesus with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind. And he did so to such an extent that each of them is actively involved in Christian ministry and serving His Lord – who is their Lord as well.
He never achieved the world’s standard of success. He was a machinist by day and carpet cleaner by night. He did not accumulate property – other than a modest home he shared with his wife of sixty three years and their family. He did not amass wealth. He never went to college or seminary. He never preached a sermon in his life, but he preached a continuous sermon with his life. And he lived Micah 6:8: “But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously- take God seriously (The Message).”
He left a legacy – “something handed down or received from an ancestor or predecessor;” a legacy that reaches to three generations and is growing strong. Proverbs 20:7 teaches us that “the righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them (NIV).” I cannot think of a better illustration of how to build a spiritual heritage. I cannot point to a more vivid example of what is at the heart of any family ministry we would implement. And he was my hero. He was my dad.
I remember clearly one of the last nights I spent with this man. We were alone, and it was one of the few times he could talk. I told him he was my hero and that he was a true man of God. “I hope so,” he whispered. I was surprised by that answer. But suddenly I understood that he was so immersed in his walk with God that he never realized the impact that his life had along the journey. All he wanted to do was love Jesus wholly, follow Jesus fully and love people as Jesus did. And the result was hearing from people all over the world who had their lives impacted through his faith walk.
What does all of this have to do with family ministry? Everything! After the celebration service the Children’s Pastor came up to me. “I have a parent meeting scheduled for tonight. I have decided to scrap what I was going to do and play this celebration service for them. I can think of no other demonstration of what it means to build a spiritual heritage. This is what a family ministry needs to deliver.”
I could not agree more. Family ministry is not about programs it is about integrating faith into our adults so that their faith walk will reflect Jesus. So how does this happen?
Disciple your adults. We tend to think that family ministry is about gathering parents and children together and providing opportunities for them to engage in faith development and relationship building. These things are good and have a place, but not the heart of family ministry. You cannot pass on something as a legacy that you do not possess yourself. For faith at home to happen we need to first be building faith in our adults (whether or not they are parents yet). In reality, family ministry starts with the discipleship of our adults. We need to ensure that there are multiple points of intersection for our adults with the Word in our church life. Look at what you are intentionally doing to engage adults in the Word, consistently, comprehensively and dynamically. Let the Word be central to their lives, for that is what will deepen their love for the Lord, guide their walk, teach them righteousness and transform their daily faith. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (I Timothy 3:16-17, NIV).” And remember that it is the righteous who leave a legacy.
Challenge adults to become deep lovers of Jesus. Raise the bar on what we expect our adults to do with Jesus and how to live their lives. Immerse them in the Word of God so that they will be nourished by each word, fall deeper in love with Jesus and live as God requires in their daily lives – with justice, kindness and humility. And as parents or grandparents they will make a difference in the lives of their children and raise them up as spiritual champions by the way they love their God and His Word.
So, know what matters. Another way to say it – be intentional on helping parents be intentional. When I reflect on how my faith was developed as a child, a few things jump out at me:
Mom and Dad loved the Word. Sure, growing up they tried to have family devotions. It never really worked. You know the drill with different-aged kids and personalities, trying to keep them quiet while someone reads. It was well-intentioned, but difficult to pull off. Unfortunately, they did not have the benefit of resources like those from Mark Holman or Jim Burns to help them. While that tactic did not work well, something more strategic did work.
I saw my parents in love with the Word. As we were going through my dad’s things, we found his Bibles – yes, plural. Not just different translations for study. We found his well-used Bibles, worn from years of daily use. We saw my parents use their Bibles in church. We heard them talk about what God was teaching them. We would see them reading their Bible and often found it open with the dog-eared pages marked up. We knew this book was important to them. We experienced the power of the Word in their lives.
The best thing we can do in our family ministry is help parents fall in love with the Word – Living and written. What is your family ministry doing to help parents gain knowledge, understanding, insight and power from the Word?
Mom and Dad prayed. It wasn’t just a mealtime grace. They prayed. They were (and mom still is) our prayer covering. It didn’t matter if I was ten or 50 years old, dad would say, let’s pray about that right now – even over the phone thousands of miles away. In fact, mom called me the other day and said, “God prompted me to pray for you in the middle of the night, what do you need right now?” Wow. Talk about still impacting my life. They prayed with us, for us, for others, with others, in church, at home, in the car. They just prayed without ceasing and without apology.
Quin Sherre in her book, How to Pray for Your Children says, “If we want our children to pray, they must hear us pray. There is no greater demonstration of God’s power to our children than when they see their own parents receive answers to prayer.” Amen to that! Dad would readily rejoice when he heard of answered prayer. He would remind us that prayer is powerful and intimate. He would show us the joy of being in the presence of God in prayer.
The best thing we can do in our family ministry is help parents learn to pray and fall in love with being in relationship with God through prayer. What is your family ministry doing to help parents become prayer warriors and live prayer-filled lives as they journey through life?
Mom and Dad served.They were servants. They loved serving the Lord, His church and His people. Our home was a revolving door for people as my parents served them. It was rare when my parents were not in church serving as a Sunday School teacher, youth group leader, deacon, elder or any other helper needed. It didn’t matter what it was: Â cleaning, cooking, setting up chairs, taking them down, teaching, praying, driving; you know the drill. But the most important thing about their serving was that they would often press us into service with them. You get it, cheap volunteer labor! It could have been passing out bulletins or helping them in a Sunday School class, going to the rescue mission or to visit people in need. Whatever it was they modeled service and they engaged us with them in service – from a very young age. And throughout their lives. They even did this with their grandchildren when possible. This was one of the most significant things my parents did that kept me engaged in faith throughout my teen and young adult years.
Teens have expressed that one of the most important factors for their faith development is their engagement with their parents in serving. They experience the faith walk with their parents and both see and feel the impact of a faith expressed in service. And they “get it.”
What does this mean for family ministry? Connect opportunities for serving in ministries throughout the church and community with families. These can be local, regional or even international. Coordinate with each ministry in the church and open up opportunities for families to serve together. Let them teach a Sunday School class as a family. While serving at Willow Creek Community Church I had families who served in the Promiseland ministry together – setting up, cleaning up, and teaching a class. Set up family projects within the community to serve. Get families together and serve the local school with a clean-up day. Be creative. Be intentional. Be consistent. Serving together as family will help build a faith foundation in children.
Understand that my parents were not perfect and we are not a perfect family. I question if I will leave even half the legacy my dad did. That’s not the point. The point is just this, building a life-long faith in our children is about legacy – “something handed down or received from an ancestor or predecessor”. “But as for me, I will hope continually. I will praise You yet more and more. O God, You taught me from my youth; And I still declare Your wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come (Psalm 71:14, 17-18, NIV).”
What can you do today to help assure that your adults have something to pass down? What will you do today to give them opportunities to do so?
As one whose life was impacted by Sunday School from age 3, Robert has dedicated his career to building a lasting faith in children. For over 16 years, he served as Associate Pastor and Teaching Pastor for three EFCA churches (Wauconda, IL, San Jose, CA and Clear Lake, WI), as Children’s Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in S. Barrington, IL and as the first director of the Willow Creek Association. The most recent 16 years have been focused on developing and distributing faith development resources to church leaders. He served as the senior sales executive for David C. Cook and Group Publishing. In late 2008, he joined Gospel Light as VP of Sales, Marketing & Business Development. He and his wife, Linda, have been married for over 36 years and reside in the beach community of Ventura, CA. They have two adult children and – most notably-three incredible grandchildren.