by Richard Bliese, President and Associate Professor of Mission
The "old wisdom" was that parents were called to raise up the children in the faith. Confirmation was important, yes, but the faith needed first to be taught at home. The home, for Lutherans, was the locus of spiritual development. It was one of the greatest strengths of our heritage.
Luther's Small Catechism, for example, was designed for home use. Sunday Schools therefore were designed to build on the spiritual foundations laid down in the home. Many Lutherans can still tell marvelous stories about how they learned to pray together as a family at dinner, to read the Bible at their bedsides, and memorized the catechism around the kitchen table.
The present day "reality" is that children often bring their parents to church. Home devotions, family prayer and home catechesis are becoming more difficult to organize on a regular basis. Some public schools even plan sporting events on Sunday mornings. Parents don't feel empowered or equipped to carry out their roles as spiritual guides to their children. They are so busy themselves, just making ends meet.
Families today are looking for help! Parents will join almost any congregation where their children are happy. Parents want to be surrounded by a strong church family that supports them with their call to pass along the faith to their children. What they--and many congregations-- have realized is simple: The home is the new mission field. The church that can effectively engage this new mission field of children, youth and family will be on the cutting edge of ministry in the future.
And this is exactly what is happening. The experiments in children, youth and family ministries are striking, and some of the newest initiatives are nothing less than breathtaking. Sunday morning "outreach events" and "interactive mission groups" have replaced the older school/curriculum models. Inter-generational groups are popping up everywhere in the church where Christians explore their discipleship in groups of old and young.
Music, hands-on activities and technology have become powerful tools for teaching the word of God and good doctrine. "Sunday School" has moved to weeknights for many congregations, where they find their children are better focused on catechesis and teaching. Retreats and mission trips are gaining in importance as young people learn the faith while they do the faith. And congregations are bringing families together to explore their separate vocations and callings from Monday through Saturday. It's an exciting time for experimentation and adventures in learning as the church uses new methods to tell "the old, old story of Jesus and his love."
Families are the new mission field. In Africa, mission historians tell us that the most effective missionaries of the 19th and 20th centuries were the ones who could best enter the home with the good news of Jesus Christ. The same is true today.
The students in Luther Seminary's revitalized children, youth and family program are the new missionaries. And they are being given tools far more powerful than a guitar and a repertoire of camp songs. Their classroom and field studies are theologically rigorous, biblically grounded and attuned to the changing sociological and emotional needs of children--from infancy to young adulthood--and their families. Our students are bright, dedicated and excited about their ministry. They are already working in the mission field.
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