When it comes to home improvement projects, there are some jobs that I am willing to try and some that I won’t attempt in a million years. Some projects are small enough, and safe enough, that even with my limited mechanical abilities and intuitions I’ll give things a try. I can replace a toilet or a faucet. I can change a light fixture. I have even remodeled a bathroom. But there are other projects that are large enough that I know I need a professional. That’s why you don’t see me installing gas lines or hanging doors. There are projects where my meager skills are sufficient, and others where they are clearly not.
Most of us feel that way, I imagine. Some things can be trusted to amateurs, but major tasks require a professional. That’s the reason I don’t try to do my own taxes (anymore). To me, the result is significant enough that the work needs to be done by an expert. The higher the stakes, the more important it is to hire a competent professional to do that work.
Following that logic, shouldn’t the spiritual growth and health of God’s people be trusted completely to the competent and expert hands of pastors and ministers? Since the stakes don’t get any higher than our desire to see people come to maturity in Christ, shouldn’t we rely exclusively upon the work of professionals to get the job done? While many Christians function like the answer to the question is yes, trusting their pastors and church leaders to do all the work of discipling them and their family members, the Bible resoundingly teaches that the answer is no. Discipling and building up the church is not the work of professionals – it is the work of all believers.
In Ephesians 4, Paul tells the church in Ephesus that Christ has given pastors and leaders to the church, not to do the work of ministry, but to equip the saints (believers) to do the work of ministry:
And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Eph 4:11-13).
The work of seeing the saints reach maturity isn’t just the work of pastors and church leaders. It is the work of all believers.
Nowhere is this more true than within the family unit. In Old Testament Israel, everyone knew this. Everyone knew that within the family unit it was the responsibility of the family unit to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Consider the words of Deuteronomy 6. These verses – called by Jews the shema (because of the Hebrew word for “hear”) – were among the most-treasured words of Scripture to ancient Israelites. They command that the things of God be taught and proclaimed through a progression of concentric circles, beginning first with a believer’s heart, then a believer’s family and household, and beyond:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 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 (Deut 6:4-9).
These concentric cirlces – moving from one’s own heart through one’s children and household and then beyond – provide the foundation for the maturing work we saw Paul describing in Ephesians 4. Every Christian has a role to play in maturing other Christians. Parents have a special and significant role to play in the Christian maturity of their children. Let me take that a step further – Parents are actually called to serve as the primary disciplemakers of those living in their own homes. We shouldn’t leave the work of discipling our children to professionals. Even if we don’t feel qualified, and even if there are others who seem better equipped, God’s plan for raising up and sending out the next generation of Christian believers relies upon parents who will take the lead in discipling their own children.
So, how can parents go about this discipling work? What should this look like? What about those who don’t have children, or those who don’t have parents? What roles should they play? I’m going to devote a handful of posts to those very questions over the next few weeks, so watch this space.
In the meantime, pray about the concentric circles in your own life. Pray that you will keep the words of God’s commands on your heart, that you will teach them diligently in your own household, when you walk on the way, etc. Pray that God will move you to take the imperative of discipling others – especially in your own family – to heart.