In his book, Church + Home, Mark Holmen sums up the problem this way: “Faithful Christlike living isn’t happening in our homes today.” “When it comes to talking about faith, praying, reading the Bible or engaging in any type of service or worship in the home, these practices simply aren’t happening.” (pp 26-27)
In his new book Family Ministry Field Guide: How Your Church Can Equip Parents to Make Disciples, Timothy Paul Jones, author, scholar and professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes, “Over the past few years I have spent thousands of hours carefully researching how Christian parents are shaping their children’s souls. Throughout this process, I’ve repeatedly bumped up against a painful but unavoidable truth: The overwhelming majority of Christian parents are not actively engaged in any sort of battle for their children’s souls.” Fathers, especially–have “abandoned the field.” (p 25)
Jones cites a 2008 Family Needs Survey of 40,000 churched parents that revealed, among other things, that “more than half of parents… never or rarely engaged in any sort of family devotional time,” and that “approximately 40 percent of parents never, rarely or only occasionally discussed spiritual matters with children.” “Nearly one-fourth of parents never or rarely prayed with their children; another one-fourth only prayed with their children occasionally.”
Search Institute conducted a nationwide survey of over 11,000 participants from 561 congregations across six denominations and discovered:
Only 12 percent of youth have a regular dialog with their mother on faith and/or life issues.
Only 5 percent of youth have a regular dialog with their father on faith and/or life issues.
Only 9 percent of youth have experienced regular reading of the Bible and devotions in the home.
Only 12 percent of youth have experienced a servanthood event with a parent as an action of faith.
(Church + Home, p 27)
George Barna reported that in a typical week, fewer than 10 percent of parents who regularly attend church with their kids read the Bible together, pray together (other than at mealtimes) or participate in an act of service as a family unit. Even fewer families–1 out of 20–have any type of worship experience together with their kids, other than while they are at church during a typical month. (Transforming Children, p 78)
Why would fathers fail their children?
1. Dads tend to parent the way they were parented, or in response/reaction to it.
2. Fathers have few or no models or examples of spiritual training at work in the home.
3. Men haven’t effectively been “told” that the spiritual training of their children is their responsibility.
4. Many men think that it’s the church’s job to provide spiritual training.
5. Some fathers don’t feel qualified to provide spiritual training for their children.
6. Dads don’t realize that, from the beginning, they are at war over the spiritual health, vitality and life of their children.
7. Fathers have not heard or heeded the call in Deuteronomy 6 and other Bible passages to train their children spiritually.
8. Some dads believe that mom, being the understanding and nurturing type, is a better teacher.
9. Dads are busy.
10. Fathers are absent, either due to a demanding job/career, or through separation/divorce.
11. Men are good at making excuses.
12. Many dads do not have a genuine biblical worldview. They will not pass on to their children what they do not whole-heartedly believe.
The Church is Failing Families
“Families are crying out for help, and the church is not meeting the challenge”, writes Ben Freudenburg, in his book, The Family-Friendly Church. “If the church is serious about nurturing the faith of children and youth through families, it must be more concerned and responsive as needs arise among church families. On a day-to-day basis, we must spend more time being listeners and caregivers than developers of programs.” (The Family-Friendly Church, pp 60, 61)
Why Would the Church Fail Its Families?
I do not have a good grip on this yet, but I’m sure someone has studied this and written about it. I don’t know why the church, in general, has not done more in this area in the past, or why it’s not doing more now. This answer will be updated in the future.
If the statements in numbers 1.-8. above apply to you, here’s a little history. Be sure to read, “Fathering: What the Bible Says,” and “Heed the Ancient Markers.”
The original purpose of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School was not to train Christian children in the things of God.
Sunday School originated in England in the 1780’s. Robert Raikes was concerned about poor, uneducated children working in the factories, and, on their only day off, taught them to read and write, taught them the Ten Commandments, and instructed them in moral living. He was successful, and the program quickly spread across England and eventually to the United States, where, again, the “audience” was not church kids, but uneducated, poor children.
Vacation Bible School‘s original purpose was different from today’s focus as well. The early programs started in New York City in 1898 and lasted most of the summer, primarily out of concern for the well-being of children who had nothing better to do with their time.
It was never intended for these programs to take your place in the spiritual instruction and training of your children.
Martin Luther, in 1530, published his Small Catechism as an instructional tool for Christians. It covered six basic teachings: the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the Office of the Keys and Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar (Holy Communion). At the beginning of each section, six times, he wrote: “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” I do not know if that happened in the 1500’s. I do know that in the 1950’s and later, the pastors, not the dads, taught this to the children. I wonder how life would be different today if fathers, equipped with a Bible and a catechism, had done what Luther instructed.
Christian schools often provide a quality education in a positive, spiritual setting. But these schools have no intention of doing a parent’s job for them. They usually have a statement similar to this in their handbook. “Our school is an extension of the Christian home, where God has given primary responsibility of educating children to the parents.” They make it clear that the purpose of the school is to “assist parents in their task of raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
George Barna says it this way. “…leaving the job to the religious professionals is an inappropriate transfer of authority and power to people and organizations that God never intended.” (p 96)
(See Part 3: God is Moving!)