January 24

Smooth Stone #2 – The Family, The Church, and Experiential Teaching (Deuteronomy 11)

The teaching was on being frank and honest with God, even when we are discouraged, frustrated, or even angry.

We were examining Jonah 4, where Jonah expresses his frustrations and even suicidal anger to God.

Rather than getting a new prophet, which is what I would have done, God continues with Jonah, teaching him and helping him navigate his feelings, based on error as they were.

One of the activities was to take a blown-up balloon and paint your face on it, depicting how you were feeling. The kids had fun, including one of my high school helpers.

Later that Sunday afternoon I received an e-mail with a picture of a balloon that was drawn by my high school helper with a very sad and downcast face. The e-mail was from the high school girl's mom, and I could see how much the teaching impacted their daughter.

My high-school helper had a bad afternoon and even though we were teaching children, the experiential Bible teaching meant something to her. This is our common life experience.

Each day we go through a vast number of experiences many of which cause us to try to understand them through a biblical lens. It goes on from “when we lie down to when we get up.”

Experience is a powerful teacher and goes on 24/7, even as we sleep.

Moses on Experiential Teaching

Moses on Experiential Teaching

That is exactly what is behind Moses’ reference to “sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” in Deuteronomy 11:19.

As we mentioned in an earlier blog, these four phrases can be understood in two ways.

First, they can be paired as merisms: opposites are juxtaposed to communicate the sense of all-encompassing:

  1. Sit at home (inactive) ↔ Walk along the road (active)
  2. Lie down (sleeping) ↔ Get up (awake)

We human beings are either active or inactive, we are either awake or asleep; so with these four phrases, Moses referred to all of life.

These four ways of being encompass everything we do, 24/7/365.

In fact—and this is the second and completely compatible understanding—these four commonplace activities of walking, resting, waking, and going to sleep comprised the rhythm of an Israelite’s life.

We use similar phrases in English like top to bottom, front to back, and A to Z. Moses is urging the Israelites to talk about God’s Word in the experiences of everyday living.

What the Bible Teaches About Families

What the Bible Teaches About Families

Therein lies the challenge for the Church, children’s workers, and parents.

Children are involved in the Christian community to varying degrees and to impact a child’s life there must be a coordinated effort between Church and family in teaching children throughout the everyday experiences of life.

Talk to any parent or any children’s ministry leader and you will hear this issue discussed.

How does the Church work with parents to teach children God’s Word in the everyday living of life?

This is particularly significant when the Church as well as the nuclear family is increasingly isolated and even under attack in many cultures. Since experiential teaching is so crucial, let me suggest some ways forward.

Although my views of these biblical principles have been influenced by years of ministry in other cultures, my particular concern regards the situation in the United States.

It is apparent to me that the problem lies with a view of Church and family that has drifted from biblical moorings. In the last several decades, a strain of Christian teaching has emerged that places the nuclear family at the center of God’s redemptive purposes.

This has been compounded by the cultural assault on families, particularly those holding a Christian worldview.

Many in the homeschool movement have been influenced by this kind of teaching. The unintended result has caused tension between churches and families.

Many parents complain about over-programming in churches and churches find parents prioritizing their family over their church community and service.

Children’s ministry leaders search for ways to “partner” with families as if they are two separate entities negotiating for a win-win outcome. The way forward on this issue is to realize that the Bible establishes the family as a basic social unit from the creation.

When Adam and Eve are created, familial terms are mentioned (father, mother, and wife) and the first family is established (Genesis 2:24). Genesis continues with stories of Noah and his family (Genesis 6-9), and the call of Abram (Genesis 12) is followed by the stories of the Patriarchs and their families.

Although the people of God emerge in Exodus, the family remains a central element in God’s economy. The Proverbs are replete with family wisdom and so on.

One can hardly dispute the central place of the family. However, in the New Testament, we see the emergence of the Church as a community of believers and Jesus Himself stating that His “mother and brothers are those who hear God’s Word and put it into practice.” 

While Paul does address parents and children, the community of Christ-followers emerge as the stage on which the redemptive plan of God is revealed.

The Church, including families, is a community of Christ-followers and not two separate and competing entities. Partnership might not be the best term to use when families are an essential and large element of the Church.

How Churches and Families Can Work Together

How Churches and Families Can Work Together

If we return to a biblical view that sees the Church as the bride of Christ, and the Spirit-filled community of God’s people, and families as basic spiritual units in that community, we are on better biblical footing.

This leads to some practical steps. 

  1. The entire Church community should be committed to ministry to children, in the community, and in society at large. The teaching in Deuteronomy 6 is addressed to all of Israel in the famous “Hear O Israel” phrase (Deuteronomy 6:4). This therefore includes singles, youth, elderly, and parents. My wife and I wanted to be part of a church where the entire community was concerned about our children…and their friends.
  2. The Church should train parents in teaching their children through everyday experiences and living of life. This requires parents to know God’s Word and to be able to integrate it, informally through “talking about it” in the everyday experiences of life. Too many fathers feel as though their leadership role is to be the leader of family Bible studies and devotions. While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, the Bible refers to training children in wisdom (Proverbs 22:6) which is defined as applying God’s Word in real life—not just knowing God’s Word. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Deuteronomy 11:18-20, teach a more informal teaching in the experiences of everyday living.
  3. Churches and families should work together to be aware of church teaching on Sundays (or Saturday nights 😊) so that families and other caregivers can be working during the weekdays to integrate that teaching into the daily experiences of children. Children’s workers should realize (and most do) that parents and other caregivers are living with children day-in and day-out and are positioned to “talk about” God’s Word and real-life experiences. Parents should realize (and most do) that a Sunday School class can have an enormous impact on their child. Just remember Nicodemus and his one evening encounter with Jesu if you are in doubt (John 3).
  4. Finally, the Church, including its families, knows that many children are living in single-family settings. Many attend church with friends and have non-Christian parents. For many, the only Christian influence those children receive is through the children’s ministry. Many parents have come to Christ as a result of their children’s influence. 

Closing Thoughts

The Family, The Church, and Experiential Teaching

Moses’ recognition that experience is a profound element in spiritual teaching should urge churches and families to work together to see children, including their own, come to Christ and live the life God intends.

Every year in one Polish village during their fall harvest festival, there is a competition among farmers to see who has the strongest horse. The contest involves horses pulling wagons with increasing weight.

One year, the contest came down to two young workhorses, both able to pull amazing amounts of weight. Declaring a tie, the villagers hitched the horses together to pull one wagon.

They were amazed to see that together the horses pulled not twice the weight but nearly four times the weight that one could pull.

So, it is with churches and families. Working together we can see tremendous fruit evidenced in the lives of boys and girls.

This Sunday, think of ways to work together with families so that more children might know Christ and experience the life He intends for them.

Join us next week as we look at Deuteronomy 11:18-20 and the need to teach Bible truth!

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