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Generational Discipleship

May 3, 2019 | by: Tony Sanelli | 0 comments


Last year’s elder planning weekend resulted in a desire to focus more on helping young families disciple their children. Since then we have conducted two surveys, researched and studied biblical principles related to generational discipleship, and assembled a team that will evaluate how well our major ministries contribute to this process. The team consists of staff members, ministry leaders and parents. The elders will be interacting with this team and considering their recommendations.

The Biblical Foundation

Relationships are central to who our Triune God is and how he interacts with his creation. The book of Genesis teaches that God created mankind in his image (Gen 1:26-27, 2:23-24). He created humanity as male and female in relationship with one another and with God. We were made for relationships.

The fall of man has dramatically affected how we relate to one another, and, most importantly, how we relate to our Creator God. The rebellion of our first parents has led to separation and alienation from God and each other (Gen 2:17; cf. Rom 3:23, 5:12).

The effects of broken relationships have come full force in our American culture of radical individualism and this has greatly impacted families. In their study of how modern culture has affected the intersection between religion and family, Wilcox and Wolfinger observe the following:

“. . . at the cultural level, family-centered beliefs and norms that used to prioritize the welfare of marriages, children, and families have given way to individualistic beliefs and norms that stress the importance of personal fulfillment, individual advancement, and equality at all costs.”1

Tony-NewBut since the beginning, God has promised to renew and restore this brokenness through the provision of a Savior. His promises were faithfully passed from Abraham through Isaac to Jacob and then to the tribes of Israel. Here we see the highly important function of the family as the God-ordained context for passing on the promises of God to the next generation.

This, in and of itself, does not always result in believing children—salvation is of the Lord. However, it is clear that believing families are stewards of the promise and thus responsible for the spiritual education and formation of the children. The importance of the family as the training and equipping context for each generation of the people of God cannot be overstated.

Within the family structure, Scripture identifies parents, and, especially the father, as responsible for the training of the children. The primary OT text is Deuteronomy 6:5-9 and the primary NT text is Ephesians 6:4. Both of which are provided below.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Unfortunately, Timothy Paul Jones correctly observes, “When it comes to the process of discipling their progeny, most Christian parents—especially fathers—have abandoned the field.” 2 This being true, it is clear that the task at hand for the church is to equip parents to fulfill their God-ordained responsibility. To this end, Dr. Jones insists, “churches must empower the parents to participate in the discipleship of their children.” 3

We believe assisting parents in the discipleship of their children will also have a strengthening effect upon the health of the entire church family. Our recent study in 1 Timothy 3 makes clear that the home is a context for rehearsing what God has called us to do in his church. What you do for God beyond your home will typically never be greater than what you practice with God within your home.

The Challenges

Herein lies a great challenge: busy and distracted households often make bad family discipleship contexts. As Nelson and Jones note, “The problem is, many contemporary Christian parents do not see their households as training grounds for cosmic combat… Some have even assumed that their children’s spiritual preparation is something that occurs mostly or even completely within the confines of their local church.”4

The many opportunities for recreation that surround our busy families in the Bay Area only exacerbate this frame of mind. For some households, home is simply a place to catch your breath and church is the place to dump off the kids. While most would agree with Stinson and Jones that parents are to be the primary faith trainers of their children, some either do not believe they have the time to do much about it or hope the church picks up the slack on Sundays alone.

Another challenge lies in the fact that not all member households are families with children. Our congregation is multi-generational, multi-cultural and includes many singles and whatever we may decide to do to assist families must take everyone into consideration. This dynamic requires wisdom and prayerful deliberation.

The Way Forward

Please pray for the “Family Discipleship Team” and the elders as we evaluate our ministries. If you are called upon to assist the team as a ministry leader or parent, please accept their invitation to contribute to the discussion. By God’s grace we hope to strengthen practices of family discipleship in our households and see greater inter-generational fellowship taking place. The pressure from the culture is overwhelming and improving generational discipleship will require the contribution of many over an extended period of time.  

Tony Sanelli is a Pastor/Teacher at Grace Bible Church

1. Wilcox, W. Bradford and Nicholas H. Wolfinger, Soul Mates (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), Kindle.
2. Timothy Paul Jones, Family Ministry Field Guide: How Your Church Can Equip Parents to Make Disciples, (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2011), 25.
3. Stinson and Jones, 25.
4. Bryan Nelson and Timothy Paul Jones, “Introduction,” in Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones, eds., Trained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical and Practical Perspective, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2011), 15.