American churches are watching young people walk away from their faith in alarming numbers. Millennials find reasons to avoid religion, and especially Christianity. What has happened? The Gospel has not changed, but there has been a change in the church’s discipleship pattern of the next generation, and something isn’t working.
During the twentieth century, American churches invested resources and effort into children and youth ministry in a way never before seen in Christianity. Camps, Sunday School, retreats, and programs for children and youth dominated church life. This well meant effort provided many wonderful opportunities for youth and children to grow in the Christian faith. But unfortunately, in the process, parents stepped away from their God-given responsibility to be the primary disciple-makers of their own children. Families simply dropped off the kids at church and let the experts do the disciple-making.
The Bible is clear that the most effective way to reach the next generation of believers is for parents and grandparents to claim their responsibility as the primary disciple-makers of their own children. Studies done in the past twenty years indicate clearly that the majority of young people who walk away from their faith point to hypocrisy as the primary reason. If parents don’t live their faith in the home, and if they behave differently at home than they do at church, their children are far more likely to walk away from faith. However, when young people, who remained faithful to the Christianity are asked who was the greatest spiritual influence in their life, it was not the youth pastor or a Sunday School worker. The number one positive influence is parents, and number two is grandparents.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is one of the foundational passages of Scripture that directs how believers pass their faith to the next generation. Orthodox Jews refer to this statement of faith as the Shema, which means ‘listen up and obey’.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach [Hebrew, impress] them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The Shema begins with basic statements of faith— The LORD is our God, and the Lord is one. Then, the believer is commanded to love the LORD. Love is an act of the will. Believers choose to love God and to have a personal relationship with Him.
According to Deuteronomy 6, it isn’t enough to have the commands of the Lord on YOUR hearts, but it is the parents’ responsibility to impress the commands of the Lord on the hearts of their children, making sure the commands of the Lord are deeply embedded in the life of the next generation. The word “impress” means to press something deeply, so that it changes the very appearance and character of what the impression is upon. The Hebrew word is used to describe the process of writing on clay. When you make an impression on the clay, and it is fired, it becomes permanent. The Hebrew meaning is that of an intentional impression, made with effort and force that is permanent.
Moses goes on to give parents the principles for passing the faith on to the next generation by being sincere, earnest and diligent in teaching the next generation—
- When you sit in your home.
- When you walk by the way.
- When you lie down.
- When you rise up.
These are still good times for modern families to share Bible stories, memorize Scripture, sing songs, have family devotions, faith talks and prayer.
We teach a little by what we say, more by what we do, but most of all by what we are! Children imitate their elders. That is why faith in action is so important in the home. That’s how you pass your faith on to the next generation because children and youth see the reality of faith in the lives of parents and grandparents.
The whole message of this passage is the importance of the influence of parents IN THE HOME. It is in the normal, regular, everyday activities of life that we impress truth on our kids. It is not just in formal, structured times, but in the everyday chaos of life.
So, this passage of Scripture and many others remind us that passing on faith to the next generation is commanded to PARENTS. But how does the church effectively partner with the home in the discipleship of the next generation?
Eight years ago, our church made a decision to develop a church + home partnership in the discipleship of our children and youth. Every ministry of the church equipped families to practice their faith 24/7 in the home through Christ-like living, prayer, worship, family devotions, Bible reading and memorization, blessings, and family service to the local church. Sunday morning worship became intergenerational. The church equipped, trained and encouraged families to practice Biblical discipleship in the home.
Before this Biblical pattern was put into practice, only about ten percent of our families practiced intentional discipleship at home. Many of our youth were leaving the Christian faith after confirmation. Today, about seventy-five percent of families are practicing discipleship in the home. As a result, families have grown spiritually, know the Bible better, and are committed to serving in the local church ministry. And among these families, youth are not walking away from the church or their faith, but are growing in their commitment to Jesus Christ.
We know that obedience to God’s plan is always the best way, and as we study God’s plan for the spiritual discipleship of the next generation, we see again and again that parents and grandparents are commanded to disciple their families. It is time for the church to develop a partnership with the home, and to recognize God’s plan for discipleship. It is time to return to God’s plan. This model will bring revival to families in America.