If Gabriel were to appear to me and offer me two wishes for the Churches of Christ, my first would be that the churches gain a better understanding of grace. My second, however, would be of a different sort. Rather than doctrine or theology, I think our greatest need is to become better parents. Certainly, the Churches have many excellent families led by great parents, but society as a whole is suffering a woeful decline in parenting skills–and we have not escaped. (If you doubt me, interview the Sunday school teachers at your church. You’ll get an earfull!)
Every poorly parented child, every juvenile criminal, is only one or two generations removed from grandparents or great grandparents who were regular church attenders but who failed somehow to pass their faith–and parenting skills–along to the next generation. Somehow, the church of years past–being the families of years past–has failed to pass along the basic skills for how to raise a child.
When a child grows up in a household with poor parenting, that child cannot learn how to be a good parent from his own parents. The only place the child can learn parenting skills is from friends and neighbors. And yet, in today’s society, people are very defensive of their parenting and refuse to let others teach them how to do it better.
But church should be different. Church members should be willing to hear their ministers and elders teach them how to be better parents. And who better to teach parenting skills? The government? The public schools? TV? Can we be serious?? If the church can’t help, all hope is lost.
Every church should have a carefully considered program to elevate the skills of its parents. Such a program might include–
- Classes on parenting (including on how to bring your children up in faith, a subject ignored by most of the Christian parenting literature, amazingly enough)
- Weekend seminars by experts on parenting
- Mentoring programs where experienced parents act as surrogate grandparents, helping to coach young couples with tough parenting problems. Or else some other structure should be adopted so that parents with problems have someone to call.
In addition, we’ll never solve our parenting problems until we build stronger marriages. And one of the largest contributors to marital problems is finances. Hence, a church should consider adding to the mix–
- Marriage enrichment classes and seminars
- Financial management classes and seminars
- Mentoring programs for marriage and financial management
Finally, to be successful, the church must teach and preach a culture of mutual involvement. Christians must give fellow Christians permission to hold one another accountable for some very personal things, including our parenting, our marriage, and our money.
There are different ways to do this. Members might be assigned to an elder or other leader with training to help in these areas. Or the church might have ministries with members trained to intervene in the case of a crisis. Or the church might set up accountability groups of peers with oversight by the leadership.
I really don’t pretend to have the answers. But the problem is at the crisis stage. It’s one of the reasons that so many of our children leave Jesus. And it’s one reason our divorce rate is just as high as for non-Christians. Therefore, no mere token effort will be sufficient. This requires persistent, constant work–not just a class every five years. But if we do it well, we’ll show the world why the church matters, because the church really will matter. We’ll touch not only the lives of our children, but the lives of countless generations to come.