First we will look at the theme of biological reproduction from the Scriptures and what that means for us today as followers of Jesus.
Be Fruitful and Multiply
Birth rates are declining in the developed world--more people with the means of raising children are opting not to have any. I used to live in Seattle--and I have heard it said that there are more pet dogs in Seattle than children. There is even a movement in Japan among women to have pets instead of children. Children are becoming an endangered species in the developed world. Frighteningly, there are even some radical environmentalist-types that advocate forced population control the likes of which are already used in Mainland China.
Being faithful to the biblical command to be fruitful in the biological reproduction sense, however, doesn't necessarily mean having a dozen children. Not everyone is called to have a quiver full of children. In fact, stewardship was one of the key principles in the garden before the fall. God desires for all of his creation, plants and animals along with humans to be fruitful and flourish--and all have been effected adversely by the fall.
In this case, quality is much more important than quantity. Christians are not in a baby-making arms-race with other faiths or world-views. The focus should be on raising up children that reflect the image of God--that is, bringing up children with living faith in Jesus.
The family was instituted before the church--and it has been the foundation for every human society. Fruitfulness then begins in the home. The scriptures are replete with challenges to parents to bring up their children in the faith. "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4 emphasis mine)
Fatherhood and the Family Altar
It was not uncommon in the past to hear sermons devoted to family worship, family prayers, family bible reading--sometimes these are referred to with the general term, 'the family altar.' These are not just quaint notions--they are of eternal significance!
Parents are responsible to raise their children in the faith. Parents used to be expected to train their children in the faith. If the parents weren't up to this task, their children's faith wasn't left to chance--it used to be common practice when dedicating or blessing a child to assign a godparent to make sure that the child would be raised in the faith even if something were to happen to the parents. Simply put, catechize your children!
Men in particular are called to be the spiritual leaders of their households--it is the duty of the Christian father to set an example of godliness in devotion as he ministers to his family and directs them in their faith. In fact the marks of a Spiritually mature man include a strong marriage and believing children (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9).
What happened? Why is it so rare to find men taking on the responsibility of being the spiritual leaders in their homes? The first answer is of course disobedience and sin--but the problem is much bigger than that; just as schools have increasingly found themselves replacing the role of parents in character formation of children--so have church youth groups and para-church youth ministries often found themselves filling a parenting void.
While many children and youth ministries are valuable supplements to godly parenting and spiritual training in the home, they are not a suitable replacement for it. In fact, they can sometimes do more harm than good.
There are significant problems in the spiritual health of the church, and they require proper diagnosis! The break down in the family has contributed to a break down in the church. Untreated they will continue to perpetuate each-other.
In South Korea only about 2% of young people between the age of twenty and thirty attend church regularly! This is a shocking statistic considering about 30% of South Koreans identify themselves as Christians. With all the eagerness to have people come in the front door of the Korean church, they have been losing young people out the back door at a shocking rate. There are numerous reasons for this including the idolatry of education, increasing hostility towards Christianity, materialism, absentee parents and hypocrisy among Christians--but one of the most critical reasons is a lack of spiritual leadership in the home.
One of the significant problems I have perceived among South Korean churches are the generation gaps in the church--it is not uncommon for children and youth to attend completely different worship services than their parents. I very rarely see families sitting together in worship. I believe this is partly as a result of the rise of children and youth ministries (exported to Korea from the West), but also because of a disconnect in the family. Children are smarter than we give them credit for, and segregating them from the 'adult' worship probably does more harm than good. They also don't have an opportunity to see their parents worshipping.
One of the reasons I believe many parents don't have a problem with this gap, is because consciously or subconsciously they are aware of the shortcomings and hypocrisies in their own lives--they would be ashamed for their children to see the legalistic masks they put on at church, knowing the broken 'real' people that they are at home. The generational divide in the church actually perpetuates the divisions in the home. Children are not oblivious to hypocrisy; this is one of the main reasons many young Koreans have shared with me for not wanting to follow in their parents faith.
Healing this divide starts in the home--it starts with parents teaching their children about Jesus; about how God sent his son to redeem fallen mankind. Parents need to be transparent about their failures and fallenness so that their children can understand and appreciate the mercy and love of God! Children need to see their parents living out their faith, hear them talking about the Gospel, see their parents forgiving each other, see their parents being transformed and sanctified by the Holy Spirit; they must encounter Jesus through their parents. This is the heart of the first biblical theme of fruitfulness!
How I Pastor My Family by Justin Hyde (The Resurgence)
A Brief History of Youth Ministry by David Wright (The Gospel Coalition)
Modern Youth Ministry a '50-Year Failed Experiment,' Say Pastors (The Christian Post)
Divided. Is Age-Segregated Ministry Multiplying or Dividing the Church? (Vimeo)
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