by Terry C. Hulbert
Perhaps the greatest danger evangelicals face is the high potential for the disintegration of the home.
Perhaps the greatest danger evangelicals face is the high potential for the disintegration of the home. The growing erosion of the values and quality of Christian homes needs to be countered by a strong initiative in household discipling—developing in the home healthy, reproducing members of the body of Christ. Not only is this the best defense against family breakdown, it is an overlooked dynamic for building strong churches.
More is involved than praying before meals and attending church together. Household discipling means that family members experience their salvation together and share it with others. This means praying together about common concerns, sharing daily experiences, and helping one another to apply the Word in daily life. It requires time, trust and vulnerability – and the work of the Holy Spirit – for each member of the family.
This kind of discipling relates the family to the church in a significant way. It increases the quality of interpersonal relationships within the church. It burdens the father, mother, sons and daughters to bring their friends to Christ.
Few church families know anything of household discipling. The churches are missing a tremendous potential for growth in not emphasizing it. As Isaac Simbiri has said, "It is the responsibility of the local church to train and prepare parents to train children in worship and in Bible study. They must be taught how to disciple their children."1 As this Kenyan leader implies, nothing is automatic in the Christian experience. We must pray and plan and work to be sure that the biblical pattern is followed – evangelism resulting in discipling and discipling resulting in evangelism, and both deeply rooted in the home.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HOUSEHOLD DISCIPLING
1. The church needs the home to fulfill Christ’s command to disciple all nations. How can a church really do what Christ commanded – disciple all nations? One or two formal services a week are not sufficient, especially when they are primarily designed for worship. Besides, biblical discipling requires close, frequent contact between the discipler and the disciple. This is where the home can work with the church – as a part of the church in a smaller unit. The roles of the father, the mother, and older children and the sustained contacts within the family make the home an ideal context for spiritual growth. Whether this training prepares for local or cross-cultural ministry, the home is strategically constituted to bear a heavy load in the process of world evangelization.
2. The growth of our churches will be largely determined by how well we make disciples. Church growth in terms of converts and new congregations is directly dependent upon the priority given to it in the home. From his own example, it is evident that the goal of Jesus’s ministry was not "decisions" but disciples. The good news is not just the forgiveness of sins but a whole new life in Christ, a life which the discipler himself must have opportunity to demonstrate in daily life before his disciples.
3. Christ’s own method of building the church by discipling has not been superceded. Churches are often concernd with buildings and robes, budgets and rituals. Jesus was primarily concerned with developing men. Discipling is a biblical strategy which cannot be replaced by the multitude of church activities, or by the technology of the 20th century. The foundation of Christian education is discipling, and discipling in the home is one of the most fruitful ways of developing believers, young and old, who would be like Christ in their character and in their concern for the lost and their effectiveness in evangelizing them.
4. Household discipling is one of the most effective ways of maintaining a truly Christian home. Discipling involves a high level of interpersonal communication (in contrast to television viewing) and shared activity (in contrast to each doing his own thing), especially in the study of the same Word, prayer to the same Father, and witnessing to the same Savior. It also tends to direct attention to "the things which are above , eternal realities, and away from the collecting of material possessions.
5. Household discipling is the key to fulfilling the pastor’s responsibility to "prepare the saints for the work of the ministry" (Eph. 4:12). A wise pastor will train leaders of homes, who in turn will help him carry out his work of helping the members of the body to discover their spiritual gifts and develop them and learn where and how to use them. This kind of activity requires closer and more sustained contact than most pastors can give to individual members of their congregation. Normally, a family member has far more contact with members of his family than with other church members, and certainly more than does the pastor or elder.
A Christian home with free communication and shared spiritual activities holds great potential for the development of the spiritual gifts of its members. By encouraging this kind of activity the pastor fulfills his own official responsibility and greatly increases his impact on the congregation and the community. This is where the home can work closely with the church, as a part of the church in a smaller unit.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE HOME IN JESUS’S MINISTRY
The home was important in Jesus’s discipling. He often taught in homes and usually his disciples were with him. He used many illustrations from home life: the neighbor who persistently asked for bread when the family was in bed (Lk. 11:8-10); the father who can be depended on to give his child bread when he asks for it, and not a stone (Lk. 11:11- 13); the woman who hid her leaven in the meal (Lk. 13:21) – the children playing wedding and funeral in the market place (Lk. 7:31-32); the little child set in the midst of the disciples (Lk. 9:47). He used these and many more simple, daily pictures to teach eternal truths. Perhaps for many years afterwards fathers and mothers in Galilee used these same incidents to teach their families spiritual truths. Jesus saw the home and the ordinary things and events in it as great opportunities for discipling.
One important truth he taught in the home context was God’s attitude toward sinners. It was very different from the attitude of many, especially the Pharisees who said, "There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish from the world."2 But Jesus showed that God loves sinners and goes looking for them, like a man whose sheep is lost and can’t find its way back; or like a woman who doesn’t stop looking until she finds her precious dowry coin that is lost. And when a sinner repents, God receives him like a long-lost son returning from a far country (Luke 15).
Then he sent his disciples out with this loving, caring, searching attitude to look for sinners, to find lost men who didn’t know about the Savior.
As he prepared to return to his Father, Jesus said to his men, "When you go, disciple all nations (Mt. 28:19). He had discipled them and the had made them disciplers! This is what the church must do, and the home must be involved in the process. As a church is a family of families, each family, to function as part of the church, must be involved in discipling each of its members.
Belonging is not enough. Attending is not enough. Knowing is not enough. Discipling results in doing and this kind of doing evangelism – is essential for church growth.
JESUS’S DISCIPLING METHOD APPLIED TO HOUSEHOLD DISCIPLING
The example of Jesus, the master discipler, is particularly applicable to household discipling. An insight into his method is found in his prayer on the way to Gethsemane. In the John 17 account we can see five key things Jesus did as he discipled his men:
1. He chose laymen (vs. 6). Jesus saw extraordinary potential in ordinary people. He chose ordinary fishermen using ordinary boats and mending ordinary nets. They were not experts in anything to do with the church. They were not experienced in leadership, or preaching, or evangelism, or writing books. But when they followed him and committed themselves to his work in their lives, he discipled them. And when he finished with them, they turned the world upside down and wrote eight books in the New Testament.
As we look at the people in our churches, in our homes, we may see ordinary men and women and average young people. Don’t be discouraged! Jesus isn’t! This is the kind of people he has chosen to train and use so that they can have the joy of working with the, Creator of the universe as he creates new men in Christ Jesus. And he has chosen ordinary people to do it so that God alone will get the glory.
Never underestimate what God can do through the members of your family or members of your churches’ families. Household discipling is the key step in preparing ordinary people for extraordinary service.
2. He gave them the Word (vs. 8, 14). Jesus taught them, "if you continue in my word, then shall ye be my disciples" (Jn. 8:31). Discipling people in the Word involves three things:
(a) Teaching. Most Christians today are ignorant of much of what the Bible teaches. Some need the milk of the Word and some need the meat, but all need to feed!
It is important to teach the Bible systematically in the home. Paul reminded Timothy of how his mother and grandmother had taught him the Holy Scriptures from the time he was a child. These not only "made him wise unto salvation" but were I I profitable for doctrine I for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. " The child knows what we really think about the Bible by what we do with it in the home (2 Tim. 3:14-17).
(b) Training. Two problems may arise as a parent continues to feed a child. If the child does not move around and use what he has taken in, he gets fat. And if he is always fed by the parent, he never learns to feed himself. These are also dangers when feeding the Word to young believers. But Jesus taught his disciples to move around, to use the truth they had been fed as spiritual energy to minister to others. Had they not gone out after Pentecost they would have become spiritually fat and useless! Jesus also taught them to feed themselves, to find answers to their questions when he would no longer be there to ask, to search the Scriptures and to feed on them for themselves – the "honey of the Word," as David called it.
Members of our families need to put to use the Word of God they feed on in the home. They need to learn how to use the Word to solve their problems, to find guidance and encouragement, and to bring others to Jesus. And they need to learn to do it for themselves, to feed themselves on the Word.
One of the most important things a parent teaches a child is to feed himself. And one of the most important things we can do for our families is to teach each member to meditate on the Word of God each day and apply it to life. For a time, the baby must be fed. Then he learns to feed himself. And then he begins to feed his own children when he has grown up. So it must be in the church. There is no better place for these values and skills to be modelled and taught than in the home.
(c) Building. Day-by-day Jesus built the character of his disciples. As he taught them to apply scriptural truth in their lives, they developed a hunger and thirst after righteousness and eventually the character that revealed Christ in any kind of situation. just as Jesus did this by constantly being with his disciples, so the parent has unusual opportunity to build the character of the children in daily experiences.
3. He prayed for His own (v. 9). As Jesus prayed constantly and earnestly for his disciples, parents need to pray continually for their children. Often we pray for them only when they are sick or in trouble. We need to pray for them always, asking God to protect them from the Evil One, to make them like Jesus, to mature them in the things of the Spirit and to use them to bring sinners to the Savior. Husbands and wives also need to intercede for each other in these areas. Members of the family are wonderfully drawn together as their names and needs are mentioned in prayer before the group.
What did the apostles pray for most in the early church? Buildings? Money? Safety? Respect? No. They prayed for boldness – boldness to witness effectively in the midst of strong opposition. Notice this in the prayers recorded in the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters (e.g., Acts 4:29 and Eph. 6:18-20). Families need this kind of praying.
4. He guarded them (vv. 11-12). Jesus knew that he was sending his men into a hostile world. He protected them by forming them into a team. There is great strength in the unity of the Body of Christ. This strength and this unity are experienced by those who are related in a real way to a local church. As one part of the human body protects and strengthens another part, so members of a disciplined, discipled family support each other.
This guarding is not just for defense. It gives encouragement to go out together into that hostile world to win men to Christ. What may be difficult and dangerous when done alone can become a strengthening and successful experience when done with other members of the family.
5. He sent them into the world (v . 18). Jesus did not send them out without preparation. He had first taken them with him as he sought out the lost and told them about the Father. The twelve would listen very carefully for Jesus’s response, for instance, as his enemies tried to ensnare him, or as a rich, young ruler asked him how he could inherit eternal life.
Then Jesus sent them out on brief assignments (Mt. 10, Lk. 9). As they tried and failed, or perhaps had some success, they always came back to him. They talked about their experiences and learned. Then, when he went back to Heaven, he sent them out on their own in the power of the Spirit.
The family unit is an ideal place to follow this procedure. A whole family praying for lost neighbors and friends by name, and then reaching out to them, gently and naturally from day to day – this is household discipling and it causes churches to grow. It brings rejoicing to the heavenly Father, it gives eternal importance to the family and it brings glory to God. " Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (Jn. 15:8). Churches grow when families grow – and go to win the lost!
1. Isaac Simbiri, Christian Education Coordinator of the Africa Inland Church in Kenya. Stated in a paper read at the Third Triennial General Assembly of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar convened at Bouake, Ivory Coast, August 3-10, 1977.
2. Edersheim, Alfred. Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, H. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972, p. 256.
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