By Dr. Josh Mulvihill
The doctrine of the church (known as ecclesiology) and its application for ministry to children and youth is essential in establishing a vibrant ministry. The Bible has much to say about the characteristics of a healthy church, and we will explore some of them in this article. In part one, I examined three characteristics of a vibrant family ministry. Vibrant family ministries assess ministry effectiveness, have godly leadership, and have a plan for discipleship. In part two, we will explore three more characteristics of a vibrant family ministry: a systematic plan to teach doctrine and apologetics, a multi-person disciple-making strategy, and an unwavering commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.
We desperately need to hear what God says about the church and apply His principles to reach and disciple the next generation. Rather than focusing primarily on pragmatic approaches and psychology solutions, we need to ask God, “What are your instructions for the church?” Jesus established the church and brings growth. He purchased the church with His blood, which means it is not ours to manipulate. The church is God’s means to defend truth, declare the gospel, and disciple the nations. We need to hear God’s plan for His church and His methods to lead it.
The characteristics of a vibrant family ministry are found in the epistle of 2 Timothy. Paul wrote 1 and 2 Timothy to explain how a local church is to be managed, to clarify the role of a pastor, and to highlight important principles for faithful shepherding. In the second letter, Paul’s great concern is for Timothy and his continued faithfulness to Jesus Christ. This letter provides a glimpse into the characteristics that are necessary to take a young person and make them into a lifelong disciple who has firm faith and a fruitful ministry for Christ.
Characteristic #4: A Systematic Plan to Teach Doctrine and Apologetics (2 Timothy 3:14)
Paul’s goal for Timothy is firm belief. What leads to firm belief? Paul mentions three things: what you learn, who you learn from, and how you learn.
Paul states, “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.” A disciple is a learner whose goal is to become like Jesus. According to the Bible, learning is discipleship, and the goal of learning is Christ-likeness (Col 1:28-29). Like Paul, we should be concerned with what a child learns.
Paul warns Timothy in verse 13, “Evil people and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Paul warns that deception will become more and more prevalent, and the only way to discern between truth and error is by knowing God’s Word (2 Tim 3:15-16). There is a battle for our child’s heart and a real danger he or she will be deceived by the world’s lies. We should not expect children to be faithful to a faith they do not understand and cannot defend. We must be zealous about what our children learn so they develop firm belief in the Word of God and the Son of God.
Every parent, grandparent, pastor, and educator needs a systematic plan to intentionally shape beliefs by teaching key doctrines and apologetics to young people. My book Biblical Worldview will help you train children by establishing a strong foundation on God’s Word and building a framework on four critical truths: creation, rebellion, salvation, and restoration.
Characteristic #5: A Multi-Person Disciple-Making Strategy (2 Timothy 3:14)
Paul states that firm belief is the result of who a child learns from. Who did Timothy learn from? Timothy provides an example of discipleship in Scripture combining the influences of parent (Lois), grandparent (Eunice), and spiritual mentor (Paul) (2 Tim 1:5). When a child has all three spiritual influences, there is a greater chance for lifelong faith.
God created two great commission institutions for the evangelism and discipleship of children with a third influence that operates by delegated authority.
The family: God gave parents the primary role of disciple-making and grandparents a secondary role (Ps 78:4-8, Deut 4:9, Eph 6:4, Prov 1:8).
The church: God gave churches the role of equipping families to disciple children and a support role directly discipling young people (Matt 28:19-20, Eph 4:12).
The school: Paul never mentions the word education, but he talks a lot about the subject using words such as “learning” and “teaching.” Biblically, God has given parents the responsibility to teach children, and that often happens today in partnership with educational institutions (Luke 6:40).
The Bible presents a family-centered, church-supported strategy to disciple young people, and this needs to shape how we minister to them. Philosophically, for the past 50 years, the evangelical church has operated as if church was the greatest influence in a child’s life, done little to equip parents, and ignored grandparents and education.
“Many of the church leaders talk about the importance of the family, but in practice, they have written off the family as an agency of spiritual influence. Their assumption is that if the family is going to be influenced, it is the organized church that will do the influencing, primarily through its events—worship services, classes, special events, etc. This philosophy causes the impetus behind youth (and children’s) ministry to be fixing what is broken—that is, to substitute the efforts of the church for those of parents since most of the latter do not provide the spiritual direction and accountability that their children need. But there is a procedural problem here: kids take their cues from their family, not from their youth ministers. God’s plan was for the church to support the family and for the family to be the front-line of ministry within the home.” 1
Churches have said to families, “Bring your children to us. Let us teach them about Christ, and we will include you in the process. Help us develop Sunday school, small groups, retreats, and Vacation Bible School. The message we are communicating to families is that the church should be the focal point for nurturing faith in their children.” 2
Many well-intended church leaders have a theology of ministry that does not reflect the pattern or practice of Scripture. Many families rely too heavily on the church for the spiritual training of children without doing much discipleship at home, and the results are not good. The ministry of parenting and grandparenting is God’s primary evangelism and discipleship vehicle for children, which is why it is so critical that you devote serious energy to it and develop a multi-person disciple-making plan for your church.
Most churches put all their energy into the few hours they have with children on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, but my encouragement is to develop a four-person strategy to reach and disciple young people built around parents, grandparents, education, and the church. If you are interested in learning how to do that, Renewanation can help through our church revitalization process.
Characteristic #6: An Unwavering Commitment to the Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16)
How do young people come to faith and grow in faith? Paul states, “and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”
One of the most helpful passages on the sufficiency of Scripture from the New Testament is 2 Timothy 3:15-17. Paul instructs Timothy about the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, which is able to lead a person to salvation in Christ, grow them into Christ-like maturity, guard from false teaching, and provide direction for life decisions. Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:15-17).
Paul says the Bible is profitable and useful for four purposes:
Teaching with the Bible what is true. The Bible is given for instruction about what is true and false such as the meaning of manhood and womanhood, marriage, and what is right and wrong. According to the Bible, teaching is not concerned with facts to be learned but truth to be lived. One reason God has given us the Bible is to teach children what is true. Therefore, if we want children to have biblical beliefs, we must commit to reading and discussing the Bible with them. God gave us the Bible to educate a child in truth.
Convicting with the Bible (for reproof) when there is sin. The Bible generates conviction; it makes people aware of what God requires. The Bible exposes sin. Our children are sinful by nature. They lack conformity to God’s law, and God has given you the Scriptures to transform the heart of a child. It is God’s ways, not ours, that children must obey. The Greek meaning of the word reproof is the legal process of being found responsible for a crime. God has given us the Bible to convince our little law-breakers they have broken God’s law, and apart from Christ, they stand condemned. Conviction is important because there will be no repentance or change without it. Our primary objective is to nurture a child’s conformity to the character of Christ, which requires conviction that the child is not Christ-like in certain areas of life. This is where familiarity with Scripture is helpful, so we can minister the Word when needed. God gave you the Bible to be the prosecuting attorney.
Correcting with the Bible to make right. The Bible has the power to correct. It literally means to straighten up what is wrong and reform. We are to use the Bible to treat spiritual diseases. God has given you, in the Bible, all the tools to address attitudes, actions, thoughts, and motives that do not align with the character of Christ. What challenges are you dealing with? Sibling rivalry, anxiety, depression, discipline methods—all these parenting issues and more are dealt with in Scripture. The Bible is given to you as the means to bring about repentance, confession, and forgiveness. God gave you the Bible to act as the physician to bring healing, health, and hope. Of course, the Bible itself does not do these things, but it is in the pages of Scripture that we come into contact with Jesus, the Great Physician.
Training in righteousness with the Bible on how to live. The Greek word for training means the rearing or raising of a child. It is the same word used in Ephesians 6:4, which is one reason why this passage applies to family discipleship. The Bible is given for character training of children. We are to use the Bible, similar to the father in Proverbs, to train a child in moral skillfulness. Children need to be taught to apply God’s Word to life. The Bible is given to help children make good and godly decisions and live in a manner that is pleasing to God. The training of a child involves the discipline of being made to practice something like a musical piece or athletic skill over and over until it is learned. The Bible is useful to train a child to live righteously. Children are inclined to develop sinful habits, and the Bible helps us train children to think, act, and live biblically. God gave you the Bible to be the coach and counselor for children.
God has given us the Bible as the tool to raise children to Christ-like maturity. God did not call us to the task of discipling a child and then expect us to figure out the best way to reach the goal. He provides biblical principles about how we are to accomplish His mission with the next generation focused on what children learn, who children learn from, and how a child learns so that “the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17).
Dr. Josh Mulvihill is the Executive Director of Church and Family Ministry at Renewanation. He served as a pastor for nearly 20 years and helped launch The Legacy Coalition, a ministry that equips grandparents to pass faith on to future generations. He holds a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Biblical Grandparenting and Preparing Children for Marriage. Josh is married to Jen, and they have five children. Connect with Josh on Twitter at @DrJoshMulvihill.
ENDNOTES 1. George Barna, Third Millennium Teens: Research on the Minds, Hearts, and Souls of American’s Teenagers (Ventura, CA: Barna Research Group, 1999), 66-67.
2. Ben Freudenberg, The Family Friendly Church (Loveland, CO: Group Publisher, 1988), 28.