The church is God’s family and it consists of many biological families. Strong families make strong churches. However, many churches are losing their younger generations. It is a big church issue but fundamentally the trend is due to the shortfall in our family generational disciplemaking.
The family after God’s own heart is God intended. We thank God that the recent General Conference Laity Convention at Port Dickson from 18-20 July put the nearly 300 participants in the right perspective in connecting church and family. It was indeed timely for us to go deeper into the challenges in our family ministry, particularly in redeeming our generations. We captured the notion of the urgency for family transformation and rededication. All were challenged to play our roles in national family reformation.
Recount God’s Master Plan
Family is the greatest masterpiece in God’s creation. In the same verses in Genesis 1:27-28 when God created man and woman in His image, He also spelt out His master plan “… be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” Marriage and parenting are clearly in the creation plan. Parents are deemed the prime nurturers of the next generation. In his first talk on “Gospel Supremacy in Families to Build God’s Kingdom”, Rev Moses Tey emphasized that the authenticity of the gospel must be lived out at home. Family should be the place for gospel experience and demonstration. Family is the God-ordained institution for passing on and building of faith from one generation to the next. Have we been fulfilling the master plan of our creator both at home and as a church?
We have realized the seriousness of our inadequate family ministry. We can no longer remain in self-denial of our shortcomings. It is time to rediscover and revitalize our family ministry. In the busyness of our never ending church programs we have been neglectful in our family responsibilities as a church, thus losing the younger generations. We need to seek God’s forgiveness for our negligence in fulfilling His master plan.
Realign to God’s Own Heart
We were really convicted by God when Bishop Ong led us in repentance and sought God’s forgiveness before he started his session “The Methodist Church Family.” We prayed for His grace in guiding our church and family to remove our flaws and replace them with reconciliatory measures and practical strategy according to His own heart.
We must no longer try to champion our own ministry dreams even with all our good intentions, without realizing that they have been jeopardizing the very essence of God’s master plan for our families. We have to realign our thoughts and plan to that of God’s. Deuteronomy 6:7-8 is God’s instruction to the families of His people. In Ephesians 5 & 6, Paul gave specific instructions on relationship between husband and wife, parents and children. Generational disciplemaking is the standard and the pattern given throughout Scripture.
I am not sure how many churches have been promoting generational togetherness in church. On the other hand, are we aware that our age-targeted and gender-segregating ministries have been fragmenting our families? Have we been serious in working out the necessary paradigm shift in strategizing the faith formation of our children and youths? Have we not neglected the implementation of long-term generational disciplemaking? Not aligning to God’s own heart is the reason for the crisis of losing our generations. From the sharings during the concluding session, it was clear that the participants had caught the principle in God’s perspective.
Capturing the 0-12 years Group
Many were stunned when Rev Moses Tey answered a question raised on how we should bring back our wayward youths to God. He gave a profound answer with a challenge. “It causes your life to save our children’s life. The key issue is ‘Are you willing?’ ” Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves selflessly like Christ for our children’s sake? Are we willing to put aside our pride, repent and even seek forgiveness from our children, rebuild relationship with them and pray for them?
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when it is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) In his second talk, “Urgency of Capturing the Next Generation While Young”, Rev Moses Tey very clearly stressed that “a child” has to be at the 0-12 year old age group. The life development of the whole being starts from the beginning of life, be it physical, social, emotional, psychological or intellectual. It is in the areas of spiritual or faith development at this age that shape our children’s attitude, values and character. It becomes more intellectual when they enter the teenage stage. By then it will be too late to shape them; even receptivity to the gospel will be markedly reduced. Most churches are investing heavily on the teenage or youth ministry. No doubt it is important. But we have to admit that it is an uphill task solving problems as a result of our ineffective disciplemaking at home during their 0-12 years. It is urgent! We need to capture this group now to avoid running into the crisis of losing another generation. An hour of weekly Sunday school class at church is hardly adequate in influencing the lives of our children. The church, together with its revamped Sunday School ministry, needs to empower the parents and make the home to be the centres for the growth of the Christian faith. It has to be home-centred and church-supported.
Towards A Home-Centred Family Ministry
It is imperative for us to embrace a home-centred family ministry. We have been stuck in the old pattern of teaching the faith to the families. Can’t we discard the unhelpful program and structure meant for a culture that does not exist anymore? We must rethink generational disciplemaking and change the status quo.
In his talk “How the Church Wins the Next Generation”, Rev Moses Tey emphatically mentioned that the church should be equipping and empowering the parents. Parents should not only strengthen their own marriages but also be the primary influencers in the faith formation of the next generation at home. Other factors to be considered in creating a family-friendly church include organizing intentional intergenerational activities, drawing parents into children and youth ministries when their children are in these ministries, and reducing our meetings and programs to free the parents and children so that they can have more time at home with each other.
Abel Cheah gave us great insight in his talk “The Family-Oriented Church” on how a church shall engage with everyone as part of the wider ‘church family’. The ‘Date My Mate’ event is a creative way of dating. Marriage enrichment retreat is a ministry not to be missed. Being the National Coordinator of Alpha Malaysia, he also introduced to us the Marriage Preparation Course, The Marriage Course, The Parenting Children Course and The Parenting Teenager Course. The Sunday experience in church shall make everyone feel like they have come “Home” as a big family. He strongly encourages us to be innovative.
At times we can become frantic in chasing after the fads to lure our children or teenagers to remain in church. Discipling our younger generations has be relational, life impacting life and disciple reproducing disciple, and homes are the most effective centres. We need to unlearn our “doing church” as an institution, and relearn to be “being church and doing life,” especially in the passing of our spiritual legacy.
God Moves beyond Reports
During the last session of our convention, we were shown the statistics on the seriousness of the social problems in our nation. Divorce rate is on the rise in Malaysia. There were 10,827 non-Muslim cases in 2018, including Christian couples. The prevalence of having sex among the teens is shocking. 9.3% of Form One students are sexually active while some have multiple partners! There are 12 teenage pregnancies per day out of wedlock and the highest is in Sarawak! Mothers top the list of child abusers. Babies are dumped at an alarming rate of three per week. All these negative social ills is the result of dysfunctional families in our nation. The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development has an enormous task in bringing about a much needed national family reformation.
Sadly speaking, the life values of teenagers and adults in church are often indistinguishable from the world’s life values. We have no data on the divorce rate among Christian couples locally but in the west it is not much better than the rate among the non-Christians! In God’s mercy, Christian families should fare better. We shall not be overwhelmed nor be defeated by these disheartening reports. We believe our God is still at work in our families and our nation. God moves beyond reports. Besides focusing on our church families, our church should rise up to be a significant partner in shaping the nation’s family welfare as our social obligation to nation building.
We need to bring back the positive impact of our church on the family in this era. We must make parents aware of their power and influence in strengthening families. It always breaks my heart to hear that a couple married in church has filed for divorce. Pre-marital counselling is important, but post-marital mentoring is equally essential in order to reduce the divorce rate. All too often, the troubled couples only seek counselling after they have already decided to separate. The church should equip spiritual parents to be mentors. Strong marriages are vital to good parenting.
As a church, we should also offer free counselling to our community too. Our helpline should be made known to the public. We should invite families from our neighbourhood to join our church family activities. Organizing marriage and parenting courses for the public should be our obligation. Besides prayer, these are the least we can do in national family reformation.
As for Me and My Household
God said to the parents in Deuteronomy 6:7-8, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…” It is God’s command, not a suggestion. It is not an option and it is non-negotiable. Our church must play its role to partner with the home in the process of imparting the faith and values to our children. Undoubtedly the primary shapers are the parents.
We must all put in our concerted efforts to strengthen our family ministry at all levels from the Annual Conference to our home, according to God’s design. May we all declare unhesitantly like Joshua in 24:15, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Dr Wong Sung Ging