August/ September 2018 - Vol. 99

                  worship together
Raising Up Disciples
A Pastoral Approach for Parents in Sword of the Spirit Communities

by Bob Tedesco

Our mission involves evangelism, service, discipling (local and world-wide), community building, etc. These elements can further break out into their own subdivisions. For example, evangelism can subdivide as adults, our children, non-members’ children, etc. Discipling can subdivide as to adults and children. In this article, the topic is somewhat focused on raising our own children to be disciples.

In a community setting and over the passing of time, we can drift into parenting approaches which might be described as “natural” but infused with Christian overtones. Decisions for the family are more often influenced by the school culture than by the kingdom of God. Schedules, activities, recreation, etc. can look almost identical to the world around us. This approach to parenting does not produce disciples…certainly not radical disciples.

In the Sword of the Spirit network of communities, we have a paper called “Raising Up the Next Generation”, which provides a strategy for parenting for radical discipleship. We can draw the overall vision from that.

Some Preliminary Questions

First, perhaps most importantly, are we radically (wholly, thoroughly, entirely) committed disciples? Are we all in? Is it our identity?  Is it our passion to see the kingdom of God here on earth? Do we think about the mission a lot? I think it was Benedict who taught that you cannot lead anyone beyond where you are and usually they will trail behind about two steps. If we use natural parenting techniques we won’t get radical disciples. If our children become radical disciples it will be due to the good work of someone else and/or a sovereign work of God (which is always needed). We know that parenting is not all of the equation, but if our way of life and parenting teaches that low commitment Christianity is a viable option…they will be unprepared and unprotected against the enemy that stalks them.
“You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
1 Peter 2:9
We’re to be a “peculiar people; not “normal”. As Christians we should stand out not only in the way we raise our children, but also in our expectations for them. As followers of Christ, we should look somewhat odd, somewhat unusual, and somewhat uncommon. We’re called to be a unique people; a ‘peculiar’ people. How we live and raise our children should look oddly different from the secular culture in which we live. It would be wise to question – are we trying too hard to fit in? Are we just trying to go with the flow? Are we committed to the call to community? Is it ‘our way of life’ or just one part of our life? Those are all questions we should be asking ourselves.

If community is just one slice of the pie, it’s not going to look like discipleship to the children we’re trying to call on to our way of life. We want to take seriously the call to follow the Lord and make the rest of our life support that decision. That would mean grabbing your life by the neck and saying, “You’re going to support the decisions that I’ve made. You will follow the Lord. You will make the kingdom first!” Many other areas of life will try to lead you in different directions, e.g. your boss, school, your job or career, etc. You have to grab your life by the neck and say, “You will make the kingdom first!”

Biblical Parenting
In the Sword of the Spirit one of the common scriptures we refer to is Ephesians 6:4, which says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
That’s the scripture we refer to most in raising up our children. If we had initiations courses in this area of parenting, we’d see that scripture used a lot. The word ‘discipline’ usually makes us think of punishment. But ‘discipling’ our children and instructing them in the ways of the Lord is also a part of it.

Some ways in which we ‘disciple’ our children would include: teaching them to take a prayer time at an early age; engaging them in family prayer and scripture; encouraging them in some area of service without monetary compensation. Our Summer Camp program encourages our children to memorize scripture. It teaches them at an early age that scripture is important and they should memorize it. They are being instructed in the Word of God.  

From Matthew 28:18 “All authority has been given to me. Go, make disciples… teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” This scripture should be coupled with the above scripture from Ephesians. If we consider the whole span of parenting, the goal is to make disciples.  This scripture from Matthew is an apostolic one: go forth and make disciples. What could be more important for parents and for the community as a whole than discipling our children? We’re not just raising our children to be good, decent, moral human beings. We’re called to be raising up disciples.  For parents, that means following Jesus’ example from the gospels and using every teachable moment, e.g. mealtimes, car trips, etc. Even those moments when discipline is necessary can be turned into opportunities for training and instruction. Fathers should be encouraged to take their God-given role as the authority figure and head of the house and not leave these tasks to the mother.

Some of the elements of discipleship may be worth mentioning here. Such things as prayer, service, tithing and corporate decision making are all a part of making a disciple. Corporate decision making is an important one to teach our children – to learn the importance of making decisions with the input and discernment of other trusted brothers and sisters. That’s a part of discipleship.

There is a lot of talk these days about ‘intentional’. It started with ‘intentional’ community. We have heard of intentional discipling, intentional pastoring, and intentional relationships. How about ‘intentional parenting’ for discipleship? Intentionally introducing the elements of discipleship on purpose for the sake of raising our children for the Lord!

The Call

Jesus repeatedly said, “Follow me.” In Matthew 4:19 he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. There is another in Mark 2:13-14  He went out beside the sea, the crowd gathered around him and he taught them. And as he passed on he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax office and he said to him, “follow me.” And he rose and followed him. That’s the call. “Follow me.” It is not just a call for us individually, but it is also a trans-generational call.

The call to be an inter-generational community was a part of the People of God from the very beginning. Some of us in the People of God community had older children when we began to build community, and we had a concern for them from the start.

In the early 90s we passed on to the region the trans-generational call. The Sword of the Spirit has given us so much: all of our initiations courses, the template for community…so much! Passing on the call to be inter-generational was our gift to the Sword of the Spirit. In the early 90s we took that call to the communities in our region and said, “The Lord is calling us to be after our own children to receive the call we have received.” The communities in the region enthusiastically received it. That was followed by an invitation to present the trans-generational vision internationally as well. Here, too, it was warmly received. So this is our little gift to the broader Sword of the Spirit and it’s an important one.

“Follow me” is the call. It’s an inter-generational call. The word ‘inter-generational’ or ‘trans-generational’ says something about us transferring it to our children. We want, as parents, to be able to transfer the call that we have received to our children. Do we have that expectation? Do we believe that our call to community is also their call?

The Our Father implies that we are part of a family. We say, “Our father…give usour daily… forgive us… as we… lead us… deliver us. It is not just a nuclear family, but a much bigger, broader family. It is our call to expand the Father’s family by making disciples, and we begin with our children.

Some Potential Blocks

The Youth Culture
One of the blocks to forming our children into disciples is the broad spectrum area of the youth culture and the accompanying problems we encounter as parents in our efforts to curb its influence in our families.

The amount of time we allow our children to be invested in after-school activities can be key. If your children are overly committed to activities, too much of that will shape and form the child in the mold of the world. Activities are good for scholarships, etc., but too much ends up producing a child who’s just like all the other children rather than a disciple. If they spend all of their time in activities and very little time in the kingdom of God they will, in fact, become ‘normal’. Have you seen normal? Look around. What’s ‘normal’? Is ‘normal’ what we want for our children?

The Decision to Work
If we allow our children to take on the responsibility of having a job we should ask some key questions: Where? What hours will they be working? Will they be home for dinner and shared mealtimes? Will they be available for Lord’s Day? Will they be able to attend gatherings and Sunday church services? Teaching them this kind of responsibility should be coupled with developing a heart for the things of God and seeing them as a high priority for their lives. 

Premature Courtship
We should remind our children of the purpose for courtship. In the SOS we say that sex is for marriage; marriage is for family; family is for the kingdom of God. That’s our stand and that’s the biblical stand. If they aren’t ready for marriage, why are they into courtship?

Choice of University

We should do everything we can to keep our children in a local Christian community or Kairos environment (our university outreach programs throughout the Sword of the Spirit regions). We should try to block them from entering “party schools” and schools known as leaders in the fallen culture.

Choice of Career / Job
It seems today that every person who has an aquarium thinks they are called to be a marine biologist! We should help our children with that decision. We should help them to know that if they’re called to get married they will need a career that can support a family. If I followed my hobbies, I would have attempted to make a living by building model airplanes! Professional athletes and some others have been able to make a living at something the rest of us would call a hobby. But in sports generally, only 1 in 1000 are able to make money at it. The rest of us just have bad knees!

Be careful with the cell phones, T.V., computer, gaming (especially for boys), social media and all the ‘tech toys’.

If all the time spent on Instagram and Facebook were put into something useful what would we have? We’d have a lot of PhD’s!

Recently, Mike Shaughnessy posed a thought provoking question: “Are we more interested in raising church-going, conservative, white-collar, educated suburbanites or saints, missionaries and martyrs? He encouraged us to address that question personally. Do we really want to raise a child who can be a disciple? Who can be a saint? A missionary? Or a martyr? Or do we just want a conservative, church-going, educated, mostly ‘normal’ child?

Using What We Have to the Max

I would encourage involving our children in the social aspects of our life in community – Summer Camp, retreats, Youth Group, Lord’s Day, etc. as they create links to other parts of our community life. These events, particularly for high schoolers, should be seen as a priority over work, school activity and sports. They should be more important.

Sword of the Spirit Regional Events and Programs
We should maximize opportunities for sending our children to University Christian Ooutreach retreats, GAP years, and Kairos regional conferences. It is a corporate venture because it involves more than just the parents. Many of us are now empty-nesters and we could say, “Why does that apply to me?”  Our single brothers and sisters could ask the same.

But all of us – singles, parents, empty nesters, and grandparents can be involved in encouraging our young people to attend regional events like the YES Retreat, mission trips and youth events. We can participate by contributing financially so that all of our children have the best opportunities to engage other young people from across the region and hopefully encounter the Lord!  It is a corporate call. It is a part of our mission; the most important part!

Reaching and winning our young people should be one of our highest priorities. We should curb our own materialism so we can set aside finances for these things. We should be tithing and expecting the Lord to bless our efforts. In Malachi 3:10 we read, “The Lord says, ‘Put me to the test if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour down for you overflowing blessing.’”

The last line of the Old Testament says, “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” Malachi 4:6.  Some translations say ‘parents’ rather than ‘fathers’. It is generally not a difficulty to turn the hearts of mothers toward their children, so the better translation would read ‘fathers’.  The second half of the verse says, “…or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” It hasn’t happened yet because we’re still here! We still have time!

The Lord is in it! The call is to your children, not just to you. As singles, the call is to these children, not just to you. As empty-nesters and the entire community – the Lord is in it with us! So we can all can count on that!

A Prophetic Word for Mothers and Fathers

The following prophetic word summarizes the call we have received from the Lord to raise our children to be disciples; to be saints, missionaries and martyrs:

I have called you and prepared you to serve me
And I have also called your children and prepared them
to march with me in the battle.
Have you given your children permission
to join me in the battle?
Have you trained and prepared your children
to join me in the battle?
Have you given your blessing to your children
to join me in the battle?
There will be sacrifice for your children, but
what I have called them to will be the
fulfillment of what you have hoped, prayed
and prepared for.
I call your children to join me as I called you
to join me, to be a part of my battle as
I march on to victory.
Let go of your children so that they may follow
me and so accomplish what I have formed them to do
in the advancement of my Kingdom.

Bob Tedesco is past President of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit. He is a founder of the People of God community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and has been one of its key leaders for the past 45 years.

photo above by Don Schwager
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