Build the Fire; Pray for the Flame
One of the battle lines that is sometimes drawn in ministering to the next generation is the line between traditional youth ministry and family ministry. On the extreme end of the family ministry camp, traditional youth ministry stands as unbiblical and should be abandoned. On the extreme end of the youth ministry camp, family ministry becomes someone else in the church’s problem, with the focus on building students in faith through youth-specific church programs. We do not need to face off at this battle line, however. Truly impacting the next generation with the gospel requires both the church and the home working together.
Biblically, we find the picture of the church and the home working together in the Shemma in Deuteronomy 6:7-9. The people of Israel have been delivered from Egypt, and now Moses is giving them the law and laying down the foundation of passing faith on to future generations:
“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 6:7-9)
The major question that emerges from this passage is: who is the “you”?
There are two primary audiences here that Moses is addressing. The first audience is the parents who are raising the next generation. They are clearly a part of the “you.” Yet, there is also a secondary audience. The second audience is that of the plural you or, as we like to call it in Alabama, the “y’all.” This “y’all” is the people of Israel. The community of faith has a role of coming alongside parents in raising the next generation in the faith.
Throughout the Bible, we see the familial metaphor: God’s people spoken about as a larger family. The church comes alongside parents to help raise Christians in the faith. The command of raising up faith in the next generation is directed both at the “you” of mom and dad and the “y’all” of the community of faith.
One of the great New Testament examples of the passing on of faith to the next generation is from Paul to Timothy. Timothy had grown up in a home with a godly mother and a godly grandmother. From the biblical accounts, we don’t see Timothy’s father discipling him, but we see Paul stepping in as a spiritual father to Timothy.
In the midst of Paul speaking to Timothy about growing in his own faith, we get a metaphor that clearly communicates how the home and the church come together to impact the next generation. In 2 Timothy 1:6a, Paul encourages Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God.” The image is that of a bonfire. Paul charges Timothy to fan into flame the gift that he has been given from his mother and grandmother. In reflecting on this passage, Pastor Matt Chandler notes:
“So the best a parent can do…is just kind of gather kindling around their kid and hope the Holy Spirit ignites it. If a kid believes for any other reason, he believes what his parents believe. He doesn’t believe for himself or herself. That’s not what we want. We want the Holy Spirit of God to open up our kids’ souls so they might own their faith. I don’t want my kids to own my faith. I want them to have faith. I want them to have trust. I want them to have joy. I want them to have pleasure, and so we’re going to do things a certain way, but that doesn’t justify my kids.”
So how does this metaphor from Paul work out in the context of the church and the home coming together to impact the next generation?
Parents, bring the sticks to build the bonfire. From Deuteronomy 6:7-9, we see that some of these sticks are teaching the Word to your kids, having gospel conversations with your kids, and grounding your home in God’s Word. Parents, also bring prayers for your kids, modeling the gospel and forgiveness within your marriage. Though we can’t do these things perfectly, it is through both embracing God’s grace and forgiveness for ourselves through the gospel that our kids see faith in action.
Student pastors, bring sticks to add to the parents’ bonfire by teaching the Word, discipling students, and planning and implementing mission trips, camp experiences, and service opportunities. Grandparents can bring sticks to the bonfire by praying for their grandchildren and modeling a life of faith. Other church volunteer leaders can add to the parents’ bonfire by teaching Sunday school and small groups, listening to a kid’s struggles, and serving as mentors. All these people come together to bring pieces of a bonfire of spiritual influence, started by the parent and encouraged by the “y’all” of the community of faith.
But a bonfire cannot begin without the ignition of a flame. This is where the “you” of the parents and the “y’all” of the community come together. The fire comes from the Holy Spirit’s work igniting the flame of faith in the life of a student. We must all come together like Elijah did with the prophets of Baal and pray for God to send the fire and ignite the sticks into a flame. The salvation process is God’s work, and we must faithfully seek Him to move in the way that only He can. Only Jesus can open blind eyes to the forgiveness and grace that He offers us by His life, death, and resurrection in our place and for our sins.
So, what does this mean for someone who as a student pastor is a part of the “y’all” of the community of faith? We must see our role as the secondary influence supporting the parents’ primary spiritual influence in the lives of their kids. We need to surround ourselves with other people who are also speaking truth into the lives of students. We need to define our success based on faithfulness to build the bonfire, not the number of students ignited. We need to pray and seek God more and more because He is the Hero who does the work. We are just playing a small part in His story.
 Matt Chandler, Galatians: Living to God, accessed March 11, 2012, http://thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/detail/living-to-god/