Is There Something Dangerous About Focusing on the Family?

“Our perfect Father has prodigal children. What right do we have to expect our children will be different?”

I think there is a subtle danger in American evangelicalism, and it’s highlighted in Dr. Baucham’s title. To put it simply, I would suggest that the next generation does not need a family-driven faith. It needs a faith-driven family. We should never reverse the order. Here are a few ways I believe that family ministry leaders are tempted to do so.

 
Back in 2011, Dr. Voddie Baucham published a book entitled Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk with God. I’m going to raise a few concerns about that book in this article. You might ask me, “Why are you writing about a book that was written five years ago?” Here’s why. I appreciate a lot of things about the family ministry movement and our focus on family discipleship. I honestly think Dr. Baucham’s teaching in this area has been valuable in many ways for the church. But I think there is a subtle danger in American evangelicalism, and it’s highlighted in Dr. Baucham’s title. To put it simply, I would suggest that the next generation does not need a family-driven faith. It needs a faith-driven family. We should never reverse the order.  Here are a few ways I believe that family ministry leaders are tempted to do so.  

(1)    We’re tempted to teach parents about family discipleship without first teaching them to love Jesus.The family ministry movement highlights the importance of repenting from parenting idols, loving our kids with a sacrificial love, teaching a biblical worldview, valuing family time, and practicing formative and corrective discipline. I agree that each of these ideals is commanded in the Scriptures. They are important ways in which Christian parents show love and give a Christian witness to their children. But more important than any of these practices is knowing and loving Jesus. The Pharisees had a biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood and marriage. They catechized their kids, and they practiced biblical parenting principles. But they didn’t recognize Christ. Jesus said this to the Pharisees: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39). When we are strategizing ways to equip parents as the primary disciple-makers in their homes, we must also help them prioritize their own spiritual growth. We should think about slimming down our church programming in order to help families keep the Sabbath. We should think of ways to give burned-out mom’s times to study the Bible together away from their children. We must take pains that family discipleship is not another burdensome duty but rather fruit that overflows from the hearts of parents who know and love Jesus.

(2)    We’re tempted to believe that practicing family discipleship rightly will automatically produce Christian kids. When we see statistics about young people leaving the faith when they go to college, it feels daunting. Voddie Baucham expresses strong concern that the majority of the kids who leave the church did not embrace the gospel in the first place:

The problem is not that these children are leaving Christianity. The problem is that most of them, by their own admission, are not Christian!  Hence their leaving makes complete sense… Thousands, if not millions, of people have been manipulated into ‘repeat after me’ prayers and ‘if you ever want to see that dearly departed loved one again…’ altar calls without a trace of the Spirit’s regenerating power (12).

I agree with Baucham that manipulative preaching has been a contributing factor to the number of children who have left evangelicalism. But Baucham’s statement concerns me if he implies that getting our practice of evangelism right will automatically result in a better retention rate for the church. Christian parents should be expectant about their kids’ future. After all, our children are raised in homes where they hear gospel taught (1 Corinthians 7:14). But there is no magic formula for getting our kids saved. Honestly, I don’t think Baucham believes there is, but family ministry leaders must be careful when teaching about family discipleship, because it’s easy to give this impression. Parents can leave a class on leading family worship feeling empowered to win their kids to Christ. But if Johnny begins to struggle with strong doubts, that same parent may be paralyzed by shame. Family ministry leaders must make clear that our responsibility is to faithfully teach the good news to our kids and then leave the results to the Lord.

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