One of the more sobering realities in the life of a parent is that your life is preaching a message to your kids. They will leave your house with the message that your life preached ringing in their ears. When I first became aware of this reality, I started listening to myself. You know what message I was preaching? I kept saying “Stay safe and be careful.” I was teaching my kids that risk is wrong. That stepping out into the unknown is not worth it. I have since been more intentional about what I preach with my words and actions.
Recently one of my favorite Pastor/authors Eugene Peterson passed away. At his funeral, Peterson’s son described the one message his father preached in his church and to his family through his life.
“Eugene Peterson’s son Leif said at the funeral that his dad only had one sermon – that he had everyone fooled for 29 years of pastoral ministry, that for all his books he only had one message. It was a secret Leif said his dad had let him in on early in life. It was a message that Leif said his dad had whispered in his heart for 50 years. He remembered these words that his dad had snuck into his room when he was a child to say over him as he was sleeping:
“God loves you.
God is on your side.
He is coming after you.
He is relentless.”*
Eugene Peterson spent his life in a small church preaching a profound message to his church and his kids. One that he often repeated with his words and by the grace of God his words matched his life. Peterson was faithful to his small church he did not need to be a superstar he wasn’t captivated by fame. Bono from U2 called him and invited him to come to visit his home on the French Rivera, Peterson politely turned Bono down because he was in the midst of translating the book of Isaiah. After Eugene got off the phone with Bono, Peterson’s wife looked shocked and said: “You aren’t going?” He said “No” she then said “But it’s Bono!” to which Peterson replied, “But it’s Isaiah!”
He lived the message of a relentlessly loving God in the context of his local church and the life of his family. His life message was that a loving God who created us is in relentless pursuit of us. That will preach. May God give me the grace to preach this very message to me first and my church and family second.
* Quote taken from Glenn Packiam twitter feed.
Parents my second challenge is not to waste your time. My first challenge was not waste your devotion. Don’t waste your devotion is a simple challenge to parents to live their faith in the light of day.
My challenge to parents is threefold.
- Don’t waste your devotion.
- Don’t waste your pain.
- Don’t waste your time.
Don’t waste your time means that you as a parent understand that your time is limited and that your time is crucial. You understand that our time with our kids goes really fast and your influence huge but diminishes over time. You have to use the time and the influence that you have while you have it because where you spend your time and how you spend your time shows your kids what is valuable to you and important to them.
We love our kids and want what is best for our kids so we take them on the best vacations, throw elaborate birthday parties and drive them all over for sporting event travel teams. Are these wrong? No. Can they give our kids wrong idea about what is most important to us and most valuable to them? Yes, I think we can. We must invest our kids time in things that are eternal. Take them on great vacations, but walk them through a catechism. Throw them a great birthday party but teach them to be generous with their time and money. Put them in sports but teach them that nothing can replace a community of faith.
How do you intentionally invest your kids time in what matters most?
We did VBS for 5 years in a row and stopped doing them for the past 12 years because we weren’t accomplishing what we set out to accomplish with them. Last year we started to do them again here is why we started again and why you should do VBS as well.
- We live in a very pluralistic society that doesn’t value church but values traditions. There are many parents who have young kids who either don’t go to church or infrequently attend church but have great memories of VBS. They want their kids to have those some memories and will put their kids in VBS before taking them on the weekend.
- Having 15 hours in the VBS week to speak new truth or reinforce what is being taught at home is invaluable. The new regular attendees standard is now 12 to 24 Sundays a year. VBS gives you a nice chunk of time to drill down into core truth that kids need in the world we now live in.
- Partnering with parents starts with equipping parents. Doing VBS with this in mind makes VBS more valuable than a simple stand alone program.
One of the things I am learning nearly 20 years into family ministry is that we often give parents good information at the wrong time. We have more tools at our disposal and bigger budgets than ever before, but we seem to be missing it. We have better looking take home papers than we did 20 years ago and amazing apps to help parents but most things I’ve tried haven’t really hit home. Our problem is that we give them amazing resources but at the wrong time.
If we really want to partner with families and most people I have talked to do want to partner with families, we have to think not in terms of what do I have to offer but more in terms of what questions do the families in my church need answers or resources to. Partnering with parents primarily requires a church that sees the value of families and provides resources and programming that make that value an experienced reality.
One of the things we have to do in family ministry is do a better job of defining to parents what we mean by being the spiritual leaders of your home. I have heard many messages and have had many conversations around the concept of parents being the primary spiritual leaders. I totally agree and think these conversations need to continue. The question I have asked myself and other family ministry leaders is what do the practical out working of partnership with parents look like. We really get the problem and the need but the solution isn’t one size fits all.