Why Family Discipleship Seems So Weird

jellosalad“Dad … What’s that man in pink doing?”

My daughter asked me this unusual question as we were stopped at a train crossing in downtown Evansville, Indiana while returning a U-Haul van. I noted a hint of concern in her voice. The graffiti covered train blocking the crossing was ploddingly moving at a snail’s pace, so I’d put the vehicle in park with my head inattentively down in my phone. I looked up to witness the bizarre spectacle she was viewing.

Standing precariously close to the train crossing bar and the oncoming train, a clearly agitated young man dressed head to toe in pink was jumping up and down in delight. Every few seconds, he’d pull a pair of black panty hose over his face. Then, he’d take an “aim and flame” lighter, pull the trigger and try to press it against the metal hull of the passing train. He was feebly (and implausibly) trying to light the train on fire. Every once in a while, he’d pull the stocking off his face, howl in delight and attempt to generate applause from the other car drivers nervously waiting at the intersection. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait much longer until the train passed and the mysterious man in pink walked off into the sunset.

I thought to myself: “That was weird.”

Weird.

Like Jello salad. Or deep fried butter. Or Cincinnati chili. Or Oakland Raiders fans.

In our church circles, there’s one other thing that people routinely consider weird: Reading the Bible with their spouse, kids or family.

Now that’s considered weirder than a platypus.

Since taking a new ministerial position as a Family Minister, the number one question that I get from families is some iteration of this inquiry: “What are some resources that I can use to disciple my kids?”

I understand the heart of the question: Those who know Christ’s love and forgiveness deeply desire for their kids to know Christ’s love and forgiveness. Just as the woman at the well ran home to tell everyone about Christ, we too want to run home to wrap our families in the arms of Jesus (John 4:28-29). From that perspective, the heart of the question is good.

On the other hand, there’s something deeply troubling about that question: Many families have lost touch with how to use the Bible to disciple their kids. In terms of resources for discipleship, the starting point should be the Bible if we’re doing it right. We believe that the Bible is God-breathed and has been gifted to us for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). But when it comes to actually using Scripture in our homes, many parents feel like small children awkwardly using chopsticks in a fancy sushi restaurant.

Why does using the Bible in our homes seem to weird to us? Here’s a couple reasons:

  1. Most parents don’t read their Bibles. As George Guthrie passionately lays out in Read The Bible For Life, a recent study by Lifeway Research found that 84% of all Protestant churchgoers do not read the Bible daily. Another 68% don’t even read the Bible weekly. Even worse, only 37% of these same churchgoers state that the Bible has made a significant difference in how they live their lives. Here’s the big question: If Christians are “people of the Book” who expect God to speak and transform through his inspired Word, then why are we so out of touch with the Bible? It’s a question that is bigger than this blog (I’d suggest reading Guthrie’s book), but let’s discuss the net result: Our kids won’t engage with the Bible if we don’t. When we bark orders for our kids to read their Bibles, to attend youth group events or to simply have less eye-rolling annoyance about waking up for church on Sunday, many of our kids look squarely back at us to rightfully call us hypocrites. We don’t walk the walk. And our kids aren’t dummies. If we aren’t actively seeking to imitate Christ and to know God’s Word, our kids probably won’t either.
  2. Most families leave discipleship to the “professionals.” Over the past 50 years, the discipleship strategy of most families has the “curbside drop off” model: Hand off your kids to the professional church staff for discipleship. Many parents feel that Seminary-trained, ministry-called, professional children’s or student ministers are more qualified to introduce their kids to Christ. After all, the “professionals” don’t have all of the rough edges, hang ups and skeletons hiding in closets, right? To other parents, the professionalization of our churches is driven by the same consumer-minded convenience of taking our clothes to the dry cleaners: Drop ‘em off dirty … Pick ‘em up clean! It’s an easy out. Other times, the “curbside drop off” model of ministry is driven by the colossal fear of not wanting to mess up our kids. Here’s the problem: The issue of parenting is mentioned very little in the Bible, but it’s always discussed in the context of discipleship. The Biblical responsibility for discipling kids largely rests on the parents and not trained professionals (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). In the end, a student minister probably can’t fix in one hour per week what is broken for the majority of the week.
  3. Most families are over-extended. From the first morning light when we yell at our kids to get out of bed to the evening time when Jimmy Fallon signs off, we’re completely on the go, go, go. We’re over scheduled and stressed out. We’re rushing back and forth to school … PTA … Soccer practice … Baseball practice … Grocery store … Forgotten lunches … Doctor appointments … Homework … Folding laundry … Fixing pre-packaged dinners. And our obsession with smart phones just makes life busier – not simpler. When we finally sit down, we’re so exhausted that we need toothpicks and Starbucks lattes to hold our eyelids open. Many parents fall into the trap of believing that our kids need to be scheduled to the max for our kids to be successful or “normal” like the other families. Cramming activities in feels like good parenting. So we end up stuck in a stank gym in Timbuktu eating stale concession popcorn and half-heartedly cheering on a mixed martial arts competition for 3 year old girls in the name of our child’s social advancement … All the while wishing we were simply resting at home with a warm blanket and a bowl of hot soup. In the middle of our booked up calendars, who gets bumped to make way for the next peewee flag football game? God does. There’s a Biblical word for this phenomenon: Idolatry. When an activity consumes our devotion to God, it’s time to start calling a spade a spade.

Weirdness largely has to do with familiarity. In my new hometown of Evansville, Indiana, one of the most inexplicably beloved dishes is the pig brain sandwich. (No lie … A dude almost picked a fight with me at the Evansville Fall Festival for accidentally jumping in line at the brain sandwich concession booth.) Now most folks that I know would find the concept of a pig brain sandwich weird, since you won’t find brain in the meat section of your local Kroger or on the $5 footlong menu at Subway. However, many older farmers, who are used to digesting all parts of the animal, find that delicacy a completely normal. I recently met a nurse practitioner, who grew up on a farm and ate pig brain and eggs every morning for breakfast. Pig brain is only weird if you’re not accustomed to eating it.

So too, reading our Bibles with our families is only weird if you’re not accustomed to doing it. Once the Bible becomes a regular part of our daily family lives, these times become an old family friend that is dearly missed when its not around.

In my next blog post, I’ll talk about some simple strategies that families can use to make the Bible a daily part of their family routines.

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