the ethic of a shepherd: rethinking pastoral ministry to children and families

As a pastor to children and their families, I have to ask myself what do I want most for them? Do I want the children to learn good manners and social skills? Do I want them to be trustworthy and hardworking? Do I desire that they should learn the books and corresponding themes of the Bible and an array of memory verses? What about their conflict resolution skills and developing talents in music, sports, drama and the arts? All of these things are important. Indeed, many are quite necessary. But what supercedes them all? A relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Like a shepherd tending his sheep I desire that they should learn the voice of God through his Word and through prayer. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice. So also must the children learn to hear God. I am compelled out of their need for God to lead them to the water where they may drink deeply, and to take them to green pastures for healthy sustenance. The shepherd knows what is best for his sheep, even when they rebel and get themselves into all manner of trouble. In cooperation with the parents of the children, I desire to help train them up so that they may not only hear God, but obey in the sense of Shema (Dt 6:4). This begins with their parents developing a vital relationship with Jesus. I also must grow close to God. The sheep are utterly reliant upon their shepherd to lead, protect, nurture and feed them. In this sense, parents are the real shepherds of their children. My role ought to be to encourage and resource the parents, providing supplemental nurture to their children within the context of the larger church community.

The difficulty is that while most parents are vigilant and competent about providing nurture to their children in many of the areas cited above, many of them tend to falter with respect to spiritual things. This is not due to a lack of desire or concern. As some, such as Karl Bastian and Gabe Norris, have pointed out, it has more to do with a lack of confidence and knowledge. It does not have to be this way. Indeed, it cannot continue if we expect to make a difference in making disciples of this generation.

Parents are not the only ones who might struggle with a deficit of knowledge and confidence. The leaders of churches also suffer in this way. Chief among those struggling to discover the way forward is me. Yet, I can honestly say that I sense the positive signs of hope. Through my doctoral studies as I have worked with families, leaders and churches throughout the USA and other parts of the world, I have come to realize that it is possible to take specific steps forward in discipling families so that parents are given the tools and support they need from the church without being micromanaged in their dailing routines. I mentioned recently Karl Bastian’s Partnering with Parents learning lab which can be found at Kidology.org. Have you purchased it yet? What are you waiting for?

This rethinking process is just beginning for me. As I conclude my formal studies I commence the next chapter in my real world learning. It is going to be a fruitful and interesting conversation.

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