When you live in a house, continual maintenance is needed. This maintenance does not focus on the parts of the building that are sound and intact, instead it focuses on the parts of the house that are falling into disrepair.
Yet when it comes to building the church of God we often work in the opposite way, seeking to avoid conflict. It’s easy to teach doctrines that do not clash with the modern worldview. Issues such as feeding the poor and clothing the naked result in admiration from the world. Even principles such as God’s love and grace are palatable to the modern ears.
It is harder to take a stand on areas where the values of the world deviates from the Word of God. Yet these are the very areas that require our most attention to ensure that the church does not fall into a state of disrepair. Right now, two of the greatest areas under attack is the traditional Judeo-Christian family unit and gender identity. Our children and young people need to be taught and strengthened in these areas.
Speaking up for family
Many who oversee the children’s ministry of the church have the word family in their job title. Despite this, there is a reluctance to teach in these areas for fear of offending some. As parents, children & youth ministers and pastors our teaching should strengthen the next generation where the church is weakest.
In one training session I attended we were informed of the 14 different family structures that we may come across in our church work. While I acknowledge that there is a whole plethora of family shapes, as I sat there I could only think of two groups: God’s-pattern and not-God’s-pattern.
The reality is every family falls into the second category to some degree. Families are made up of imperfect people and we live in a fallen world where even a perfect family has to face loss, trials and sin. Yet family is God’s idea. He knows the template that will work best for the nurturing of children and the strengthening of society as a whole. If we never teach our children what God’s best for their family is, how will they know what they should be aiming for?
What if we offend?
Some are concerned that i
f we speak about how God’s plan for family includes a mother and a father, then some children may feel like their family is second rate. I acknowledge that teaching these topics could create such feelings. But just because there is a wrong way to teach a truth, does not mean that it should not be taught. Instead we should take extra time and care to teach in a way that builds up all families, whilst encouraging them to aspire for God’s best.
For example, there can be no judgement passed on single parent families. Firstly, they may find themselves in that situation for many reasons, often through no fault of their own: from death of a spouse, abuse, adultery or simple selfishness of another human being. Secondly, single parents are quite frankly heroes in our society. Battling through many adversities to raise great children, sometimes with a great network around them and other times single-handed.
Yet in all my years of working with children, whatever the cause, I have never met a child who does not long to have both a mother and a father living at home with them. They may not vocalize this to their remaining parent, as they don’t want to upset them, but they still long for it. Even when the absent parent was an abusive father, they still long for a father to be around, albeit without the abuse.
If we, the church, act as if there is no gap in a family when a father is absent or disengaged, then how can God fill the gaps. To acknowledge it can be the start of a healing process and acceptance that God, the father of the fatherless, is now their father. When as a whole church community we teach on family, this in turn should provoke us to action - to help be the missing brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers to the other members of our community.
Five years ago, people would have thought it crazy that schools would allow boys to use the girls’ toilet or that a teacher could be sacked for calling a girl a girl. Our children are on the very frontline of social engineering when it comes to distorting gender. At a recent parenting seminar, many of the parents were sharing how they felt ill-equipped to help their children’s process transgenderism and the confusion caused by the local primary school’s latest policies in this area. We cannot ignore this issue, for if we don’t teach them, the world will dictate their values.
A great place to teach about gender from a Biblical viewpoint is within the context of our identity. In case study 2 we look at the kind of themes that may be covered when teaching on identity.
(Click here to read a great blog about transgenderism by Peter Sanders from the Christian Medical Fellowship. http://pjsaunders.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/how-should-christians-respond-to.html)
What does this look like practically?
So how can we teach on these issues without diluting truth, stigmatising two thirds of our families or offending the rest!
Here are a few suggestions:
1.Our teaching should come direct from the Bible.
As we focus on God’s perfect plan we can also acknowledge that we all fall short of God’s standard. While there are robust arguments being made when discussing fatherlessness, disengaged parents, gender and sexuality, our role is not to teach sociology, but Scripture.
Of course, multiple studies and evidence from many disciplines of science actually support the scriptural model as the best model for society and there is great benefit from studying these when engaged in discussion. However, when teaching our children, we do not need to address all the deviations from God’s best. We simply need to present God’s best: God made us male and female (Genesis 1:27) and intends for families to be made of one man and one woman committed for life (Genesis 2:24).
This is not to bury our heads in the sand as if the distorted forms of family, sexuality and gender do not exist in our world. Rather, it is because we acknowledge that they do exist that we need to point to, and speak clearly on, what the word of God teaches in these areas. Love dictates that we do not hide truth, but speak truth in a way that will bring freedom and affirmation of every child and young person under our care. If we do this right it will help them both to process their current situation and make wise decisions for their future family as they grow up.
2.Tools to evaluate.
Once we have taught what the Bible says, children have a framework with which they can evaluate any issue. If you have a box that is clearly seen, it is easy to tell if something is in the box, or outside of it. When scriptural principles are clearly defined, it is easy for children to tell whether the latest teaching they hear lines up, or conflicts, with Scripture.
3. We should facilitate children and families to reflect together on their own family.
This will give families an opportunity to celebrate what is good, whilst also discussing what can be improved and accepting what can’t be. It can also help to open up conversations within families. this can serve to enlighten parents on what their local schools are teaching in this area, give the child opportunities to discuss areas where they are confused and allow dialogue on past hurts that have been buried, allowing God to bring healing to the family. (See Case Study 1, below, for more details on this).
4. We should give the children opportunities to encounter God for themselves.
When our ministry allows the children to not only learn about God, but to encounter him in prayer and worship they can experience God’s unconditional love for themselves. When children discover their identity in God they can face the world from a position of strength, no matter how challenging their personal circumstances may be. (See Case Study 2, below, for more details on this).
One child came from a challenging family. His parents were both drug users and his life was erratic. He started his time with us by announcing that he didn’t believe in God. He then spent much of this time rolling around on the floor with his back to all that was going on. After he had encounter God’s love for himself through the team, but more importantly direct from God in times of ministry, this boy started to change. Before long he had discovered that God not only believed in him, but that God loved him.
At the end of the week he shared a testimony, three words that melted the heart of the whole team: “I feel happier.”
Case Study 1
As part of our leadership training school for children we took several weeks to focus on the family. We looked at God’s plan for family and how no family is perfect. One week included a Bible study on Genesis 37:1-11.
The children had to read through the passage from Jacob’s perspective to underline any way Jacob caused a problem in his family or was upset by a problem. They then read through the passage again, using a different colour to circle all the places where Joseph caused a problem in his family or was upset by a problem. Finally, the children read through the passage a third time looking at the family from the brother’s perspective.
The children were also encouraged to think about how they can deal with problems in their family and how they can improve things too. Part of this process includes the following assignment:
What areas of your family are good?
What areas of your family are not good?
What things do you do which help the other people in your family?
What things do you do which do not help your family?
What can you do to help your family be better?
Talk about your answers to questions 1-5 with your parents (saying sorry if you need to for things you have done that you should not have, and talking about ways you are going to try to change).
This assignment led to many fruitful discussions as families focussed on God’s best for them together and aimed for it.
Case Study 2
In wanting to see our children grow into their full potential with God, we realised that a huge part of this includes them discovering their identity in Christ. This is an ongoing part of any discipleship that appears through much of our teaching, but it provides a great forum for discussing our gender in a wider context of our purpose. Here are some of the themes that we keep returning to as we help children to discover their own identity.
God does not make mistakes. He did not make a mistake when he put you on earth at this time (think of Esther who was there for such a time as this). He did not make a mistake when he made you male or female. God put you here to fulfil his plan.
The power of a name/label. God named many people in the Bible and changed the names of many others to reflect their new identity in him. Famously, Jabez also asked God to ignore his name and grant him a fresh identity.
We are made in God’s image. We are called to reflect something of God’s goodness and glory here on earth.
What we worship we will become like (see Psalm 115:3-8 and 2 Corinthians 3:18). As we worship God we become like his image (how he created us to be). When we worship an idol, we become like it (less than God’s best for our lives).
God has a plan for us to fulfil. This area includes both the general plan that God has for every believer and the specific calling he has for each individual.
Our life fulfilment comes not from following our own desires, but from pursuing our life purpose which is only fully found when we desire God above everything else.
Included in this teaching are opportunities for ministry that look at where our perceived identity does not match God’s view of us. Perhaps by words spoken over us from others (labels given) or through lack of faith. For example in one ministry time we spoke about how God will give each of us a new name written on a stone (see Revelation 2:17). We gave each child a white stone, and they had an opportunity to reflect and pray on what their new name might mean for them. Further opportunities are given to seek God for our unique callings and to share testimonies about the impact of choosing to follow God even above our own desires.
One young teen used to wear layers of makeup and a heavy attitude. After teaching on identity and a time of ministry she arrived at the next meeting makeup-free and smiling. The rest of the group wee stunned by the transformation in her as they could see she now had peace. She went on to explain how God had shown her she was beautiful on the inside and so she no longer felt the need to wear the makeup.
Anyone who ministers the Bible to the next generation should take the time to minister into the areas of family and gender identity.
Let’s help our children to discover the grace of Christ, exhibit the character of Christ and hold to the morals of Christ; all the while demonstrating the love of Christ. We are called to be salt, seasoning the world around us. We do not want to lose our saltiness. Instead let’s raise a generation who can impact the world for His glory.