Over the years, I have had the privilege of coaching dozens of pastors from a wide variety of churches. In almost every case, the word most often used to describe their ideal church is family.
While I agree that family is a great word to describe a healthy, thriving church, I am concerned that we often make the mistake of romanticizing the concept of “family” and foster expectations that no pastor or congregation could ever fulfill. Pastors often talk about family in terms of vacations, Disneyland, Christmas and cuddling up on the couch, yet these kinds of experiences are only a very small part of what family is all about. Family is also about sharing your toys, making your bed, taking out the trash and learning how to drive. In other words, a significant part of family deals with growing up.
God created family to be “fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Family is God’s methodology for extending His Kingdom throughout the earth.
The ultimate goal of family is to reproduce itself by raising up sons and daughters into mature adults, who in turn raise up sons and daughters and so on, until the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God like the waters cover the sea. For this to happen, we need to set our sights not merely on raising children—but on raising adults.
If my goal is only to raise a child, I will begin to lose interest in the teen years, but if my goal is to raise an adult, I will not be content until I see my grandchildren. The same is true of spiritual family. If my goal is only to birth new converts—not to raise leaders—my church will stay a spiritual nursery forever.
How do you raise spiritually mature adults? Here are some things you need to impart to produce healthy spiritual children who will make you a proud spiritual grandparent.
One of the first things a child learns is his or her name. In faith-filled homes, a child’s first name is often chosen after prayer and consideration, but the last name is a statement about the family of origin. Identity is formed in an environment of love, intimacy and care. The same is true in the Kingdom. Some of the first things we learn as new believers are how much we are loved, who we are in Christ and who Christ is in us. Those things are the foundation of Christian identity.
Unfortunately, many of us were raised in broken homes by imperfect parents who were unable to impart a sense of true identity to us. So as spiritual parents, we must bring healing to the brokenness and impart true identity to our spiritual sons and daughters in a way that fosters stability, security and personal victory.
In the natural family, children thrive on a sense of connectedness with their parents, siblings, relatives and friends. Family is where the value for community is introduced and imparted. The same is true with spiritual family. Every believer needs to be committed to some ongoing fellowship with other believers in order to grow. Community teaches us that we are not alone, that we are not self-sufficient and that we deeply need one another.
As a child grows up, he or she is expected to display increasing maturity. Although physical maturity is inevitable, emotional and spiritual maturity must be developed intentionally. That is also true in the Kingdom of God. Maturity is a combination of our ability to consider others above ourselves; to process disappointment and pain without blame; and to live in a proactive, not reactive, manner. Spiritual parents must tune in to the maturity level of their sons and daughters to help foster growth as time passes.
In a healthy family, parents don’t do all the work. It has nothing to do with idleness or a lack of willpower—they know that if they deprive their child of hard work and responsibilities, they take away the child’s vehicle for growth. Wise parents will provide age-appropriate responsibilities to help their child develop the qualities necessary to be a thriving adult.
As spiritual parents, our primary job is people development. We operate with the conviction that no one can truly grow in Christ apart from service to others. We design that service on an age-appropriate level—simple tasks for the newly saved and high-level leadership for the more mature.
Healthy parents get to know their sons and daughters according to the unique designs and destinies God gave them. We look for personality styles and types, spiritual giftings as they become visible and areas of victory and challenge. We look for the kind and the quality of relationship they have with the Lord. In studying these things, we can learn the design of our children and help aim them like arrows toward the bull’s-eye of destiny.
In a church, pastors and leaders need to learn and study each person they care for. They need to avoid the temptation of cookie-cutter discipleship, where everyone grows in uniform lockstep, and learn to individualize the leadership development process, so every single person in the church can discover his or her design and destiny. That way, every church becomes a destiny incubator for the good of all, for the glory of God.
To learn more about this topic, check out destinyfinder.com.