I have three daughters (10, 7, and 2) that I love deeply. My wife and I often talk about what life will be like for them in another thirty years. I have a dream for them that I take to God in prayer almost every day. The dream is one of Godly legacy. Faith in Christ passed down from my wife and me to our daughters and from our daughters to our grandchildren and great grandchildren. We pray that the generations to come from our family would love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. It’s a simple request but one the culture pushes back against in its post-modernity.
How is it that the local church has the greatest children’s and youth ministries in the history of western civilization and yet produces a generation of young adults who “compartmentalize” their faith in Christ at best? I dream of a day when the kids being equipped at my church and yours become adults who make decisions about relationships, family, marriage, morality, and life path based on their deep conviction that all of their life belongs to Christ. The status quo however indicates that despite all of our technology, resources, programming, and professionalism we are somehow missing the boat of effective spiritual formation. In what ways do we need to shift our thinking and our methods in order to hurl a legacy of faith into the next generation?
What Does the Bible Say?
Most of our spiritual formation practices in the local church reveal a fundamental belief that all discipleship takes place inside church buildings on one maybe two days of the week. When we compare our practice with the theology of spiritual formation it is possible that a disconnect will be revealed. Follow this biblical path of spiritual formation with me.
These commands that I give to you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
He decreed statues for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.
Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
When you follow this thread of Scripture it is easy to discover that God’s plan is to partner the work of the family and the work of the church to disciple children. If you are like me, you know exactly what to do at church to lead children but how do you push discipleship back into to the home? How do you equip mom and dad to disciple their own children?
The Shift: 7 Legacy Milestones
At Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas where I serve as Associate Pastor, we call this strategy “Legacy Milestones.” We constantly encourage parents to “walk the path of Legacy Milestones,” leading their children as they go. We provide a common path of spiritual formation integrating the leadership of parents at home and the discipleship process at church. It is one simple path composed of seven legacy milestones. We equip parents to lead faith talks and capitalize on God Moments along the way leading their child toward the next milestone. Our strategy at church focuses on a Bible Study process and a series of events and experiences, ushering children toward the next milestone. The family and the church walk the same path celebrating milestones along the way. Rest assured, this is not complicated.
A milestone is “an event preceded by a period of instruction from parents which celebrates a spiritual development point in a child’s life.” When you think about the practice of your church, most likely events or celebrations highlighting milestones already exist. Do you have any type of baby dedication at church? How about baptism? Have you done anything lately to help your children prepare for adolescence? Do you host a True Love Waits event? Do you celebrate graduation with High School seniors and their families? I am betting you do some or all of these things. Now it is simply a matter of aligning these events along a common path allowing the church and the parent to partner effectively to equip the next generation.
Here is how it shakes out at Kingsland. We lead people toward seven legacy milestones as they walk a path of growth in Christ.
Milestone 1: Parent/Baby Dedication
Milestone 2: Faith Commitment
Milestone 3: Preparing for Adolescence
Milestone 4; Purity for Life
Milestone 5: Right of Passage
Milestone 6: High School Graduation
Milestone 7: Life in Christ
We view the milestones as spiritual growth points along the path of life beginning with milestone 1 and extending through milestone 7. Between each milestone there are age appropriate core competencies derived from Scripture that a person must learn and experience as they journey toward the next milestone. We teach these core competencies in the context of children, student, and adult ministries using vehicles like Sunday school, small groups and events. The church serves as a community for all people to grow in their walk along the path. Pastors and ministry leaders serve a significant role as guides along the path for the parent and the child.
With each milestone we offer parenting training, faith talk resources, campus events, and family celebration ideas to help parents lead their children along the path. Milestones give parents markers along the way to help them stay on course during the long journey of leading a child spiritually from infancy to adulthood. The simplicity of this approach in practice is the beauty of the strategy. Take what you are already doing, rethink your practice with the family in mind, and maximize milestones for a spiritual formation process linking church and home. Discipleship involves church and family. Spiritual formation is best when parents become the effective primary faith influencers in the life of their children.
4 Key Parent Behaviors:
It is not enough to show parents the milestones strategy and tell them they need to lead their children spiritually. The church has to go the extra mile to teach parents how to lead their children. We work hard to teach parents 4 key behaviors that should become a regular part of their family life.
1) Leading Intentional Faith Talks
Faith talks are the platform from which parents formally teach their kids the Bible every week. Another word for “Faith Talk” is family devotion. We ask parents to lead a planned faith talk at least once a week. The faith talk each week considers where the children in the family are along the milestone path and what core competencies they need to learn. By leading this devotion parents intentionally teach their children truth necessary for the journey.
2) Capturing God Moments
God Moments are those little teaching opportunities God provides as you are simply living life. You have to be around to catch them. When God throws them your way, you speak into your child’s life from a biblical perspective. We teach parents to pray for God moments. Pray for the wisdom to see them and to insert Biblical truth into the circumstance. God uses the pathways of life to mold the next generation. If a parent can be their along the way to influence biblically, God moments become an amazing vehicle for spiritual formation.
3) Celebrating Legacy Milestones
Legacy Milestones is the strategy Kingsland uses to help parents pass on Christian doctrine and life application to their children. Milestones are celebrated as a parent leads a child to progress in his or her faith by teaching them Scripture and modeling life in Christ. As a child leaves one phase and begins another, the family celebrates God’s work in growing the child. The strategy capitalizes on natural points of growth in the spiritual life cycle by celebrating the work of God in a life. The path of Legacy Milestones gives the church and the family a road map clearly directing the next generation to a biblical life in Christ.
4) Authentically Model Life in Christ
The most important aspect of all of this is how parents live in front of their children. Authenticity is key. Leading Faith Talks, capturing God Moments, and celebrating Legacy Milestones becomes empty religion when a parent lives differently than what they teach. There is no need to be perfect, only authentic. Live so the next generation can see what life in Christ looks like.
4 Key Church Behaviors:
1) Make Adult Disciples
Milestone 7: Life in Christ, is our secret weapon in the battle for the next generation. If we do not make adult disciples we will not raise up parents who can lead their children spiritually. Lead adults to learn the Bible and live accordingly. Use vehicles like worship, small groups, seminars, and opportunities to serve to help adults grow in their faith experience. Teach adults to make disciples. Help them see their important role in the lives of others. Do this for every adult; younger or older, single, married, kids, no kids. But… when they have kids, teach them that their first priority in making disciples is their own children.
2) Equip Parents Specifically
Work hard to equip parents to lead. Twice a year we host an event called Parent Summit. Adults come for motivation and encouragement. They learn to identify where their children are on the path of legacy milestones. They learn to lead faith talks. Every milestone has a parent seminar designed to demonstrate how parents can help their kids walk toward the next milestone. 3-4 times a year we use or small groups as a platform for Take Home Sunday. We write a lesson tailored for every adult season of life. We use Take Home Sunday to teach parents something important related to faith training. We have hit on topics like Faith Talks, God Moments, the Family Table, Prayer and other important issues. These are just some ways to equip parents through the ministry of the church.
3) Be the Village
We have all heard the quote, “It takes a village.” In this case it really does. Children and youth need other faith influences in their lives echoing the truth parents are teaching at home. The church is literally the village or the community that provides other relationships as part of the tapestry of spiritual formation. Ministry volunteers working with children and students play a vital role adding validity to the life and teaching of parents and serving as encourages, coaches, teachers, and listeners for the next generation.
4) Be the Primary Faith Influencer for many children and youth
There will always be children and youth whose parents do not lead them spiritually for whatever reason. In this case the church must take the lead as the primary faith influence. We are learning to be very intentionally about pinpointing what parents walk the path of legacy milestones with their children as well as those that do not. When parents are not involved, the church takes the lead.
You Can Do This!
I think we all want to be a part of hurling Godly legacy into the next generation. As a dad, I pray the next generation of Christ-followers lives according to a Biblical worldview. For that to happen we need to act now, but it’s not rocket science. The Bible teaches the family to engage in the process. We have to teach families how. It may seem overwhelming to think about strategic change but in reality the shift makes church life less complex. Find a way to build a common path for church and home for the sake of the next generation.
For more information read “Shift: What it Takes to Finally Reach Families Today” or visit www.legacymilestones.com