When the car door closes, anxiety rises. The experience of being sent home from the hospital after the birth of a baby is practically universal, at least in the West where most babies are born in hospitals. And to new parents, it all seems perilously close to criminal negligence. The time comes for the new family to take their baby home, and the staff is so concerned to keep the baby safe that they don't even let the young mom walk to the exit. She and the little one are conveyed to the door by wheelchair. But once the car seat is buckled up, the concern for the baby's safety and survival simply shuts down. The nurse or aide does not get in the car! They do not offer to follow in their own car so they can wheel mom into her house and get her settled! They don't look worried. They don't make house calls. They seem not to realize that she has no idea how to help her baby survive day one safely, let alone a lifetime.
Weeks later, when everyone has had a little sleep and spirits have begun to rise, the new parents now have hope that they can keep this mysterious being alive. But as Nelson Mandela observed with resignation, "after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb." For Christian parents watching a unique individual emerge into relationships and responsiveness, a new and fearsome awareness settles in. The prophet Malachi puts God's goal for parents succinctly: "And what does [the Lord] want? Godly children from your union." (Mal 2:15, NLT)
This is a little terrifying.
It is now the primary responsibility of the parents' lives to help bring their child into genuine relationship with God, and most are rightly overwhelmed. Bedtimes and behavior will respond to loving legislation, but no one has ever been ruled, argued, or coerced into relationship with Jesus. It doesn't happen that way. Another dynamic must be at work. And as the Scriptures so often demonstrate, utter helplessness is a fine place to begin. We cry out, Gideon-like, that we completely lack the necessary resources to get the job done, only to be gently reminded that it has never been about our resources, and that God has always been in the business of bringing glory out of the normal train wreck our lives seem so often to resemble. And that is where our year of considering visionbegins.
Acting on vision, on our calling, begins with a recognition of our poverty.
Coming from nominally Christian and marginally dysfunctional families, as both my husband and I did, and with no older role models to show us the way, our genuine parenting inadequacy was great. But this apparent deficit actually served to sharpen our hunger for specific help from heaven. God gave us simple insights and powerful tools. He intervened. He gave clarity. He interpreted our children to us when we were most in the dark. It is this kind of treasure I am anxious to share. They are treasures that came out of our poverty, like bread from empty baskets on a Galilean hillside to feed a crowd.
Now, yoked in ministry with our grown children, we see how the lessons learned in the stress of parenting are the same ones anyone needs who hopes to be used by God to make disciples of those who come after them. Pastors, church planters, campus workers, teachers . . . Christians . . . all of us. Western culture is as hostile to Christian faith as it has ever been, and even in the church, role models of intergenerational torch-passing are few. How does it happen . . . what does it take for the Christian faith to actually be planted in the next generation of the church, whether they are the children in our homes or the next generations of believers in our neighborhoods and churches? What roots the faith in the ones we hope to hand it to?
The instructions in the Scriptures frequently sound parental. God often compares his relationship with us to both a father and a mother, who protect, love and also train or discipline children. Paul's letters sound parental: "Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives." (Gal. 4:19 NLT) Or this: "I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. So I urge you to imitate me." (1 Cor.4:14-16)(See also 1 John 2:1 and 3 John:4)
It's no wonder that making disciples of the next generation in the home, and in the church, are built on the same foundational principles. We hope to look together at some of these principles in the months to come.
But it's daunting!
The Great Commission echoes and universalizes Malachi's blunt and, frankly frightening, challenge to parents. Jesus says, "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mt. 28:19-20)
Be honest. What's your reaction when you hear the Great Commission? Maybe it's similar to our reaction to parenthood.
If we remember how clueless the first disciples were at the time, not even understanding who Jesus really was or believing what he said was about to happen to him, to them, we might think, Seriously? You are going away and leaving the whole shooting match to these losers? How can that possibly work?
Or we might simply identify with those clueless disciples. Feeling clueless ourselves, we respond to God's call to make disciples of the next generation in the Kingdom by inwardly protesting that this can't be for us. We'd better pray for the missionaries, church planters, pastors, and teachers. The professionals. This can't be our call, our job description.
But it is. The Great Commission is for all of us. Every disciple. Our overarching vision is to cooperate together to hand the faith of our fathers and mothers in the faith off to others, as it was once, somehow, handed to us. The good news is in the Great Commission's last line: Jesus is with us. The work is his.
I love how many times God asks the saints of Scripture what they have to accomplish the task he's given them. At the burning bush Moses basically says, Nothing! Just this stick! But God will use it, in the hands of Moses, to part the Red Sea. Jesus asks the disciples the same question when they plead that the thousands gathered to hear him are hungry and should be sent away to find food. You feed them! Jesus says. What do you have? They answer, Nothing! Just one lunch!But God will use it, in the hands of his disciples, to nourish a multitude.
It's all about what God will do to accomplish the vision he gives. He asks us what we have, and when we say, Nothing! Not nearly enough! It's as if he says, Good. Just so you know . . . Now watch.