My job at the moment is developing discipleship in one Anglican diocese, so as you can imagine I do quite a bit of thinking about what discipleship is, what it means, and what it looks like. Here are some random thoughts, gleaned from my reflection on the Bible and current thinking …
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deut 6)
We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, 6 so that the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. (Ps 78)
It was my privilege recently to attend a conference following up the Anecdote to Evidence report. It was a great day, but there was one moment of deep shock and sadness for me. The one major headline of the whole day was that as a church if we don’t begin to take seriously the desperate need to engage with younger generations, we simply have no future. But one speaker asked the question ‘How have we got to this stage?’ Why are parents not passing on Christian commitment to their children?
He spoke of some research in which parents were given a list of ‘values’ – nice, positive qualities such as kindness, respect, honesty, diligence, law-abidingness (if that’s a real word), and also religious faith. The parents were asked to list the top five of these qualities which they would like to see imbued in their children as they grew up. The results were shocking:
- Of those who called themselves ‘Anglicans’ only 11% had ‘faith’ in their top five
- Of those who were ‘active Anglicans’ (attending church regularly) only 28% did, and
- Of ‘Committed Anglicans’ only 36% did.
Anglicans don’t seem to care whether or not their children grow up with faith! This news cut me to the core. As I pondered it, I reflected that the figures spoke of even committed Christians who regarded their faith as an optional extra, a leisure activity, or a lifestyle choice which, in our tolerant age, they would not be so presumptuous as to try to force on anyone else, even their own kids.
I am aware that there are many many parents in the churches of our land who know the grief of seeing their children grow up to abandon the religion in which they have been faithfully brought up, and choose lifestyles which they would not want for them. I am sometimes made to feel guilty because all three of my grown-up children are as passionate about God as they ever were, and all seeking to serve him in different ways as their top priority. I also know that for many parents of lost children the reaction is shoulder-shrugging resignation, because the alternative is far too uncomfortable to contemplate.
But if I could address new parents of those contemplating parenthood, I would point them to the passages above and tell them that their single highest calling in life is to make sure that their children have vibrant faith, and that God’s way of achieving this is through parents, and not through Church or Sunday School. If you feel inadequate to this task , welcome to the club. You need to attend seriously to your own discipleship, because you won’t create in your kids what isn’t in you.
And if I could address parents with kids no longer living for God, I would call them to deep, grief-stricken and anguished prayer and intercession, rather than merely believing that ‘everyone does it nowadays’. I know this is uncomfortable: I’ve got myself into deep trouble more than once for saying this, but unless we start taking our children’s faith seriously, there quite simply is no future.