The Scripture tells parents, especially fathers, "You shall teach them [that is, the commandments] diligently to your children." (Deuteronomy 6:7) The context of this parental mandate is the Sh'ma, which teaches absolute commitment to God and His standards beginning with the command to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and might. Furthermore, we are told to talk of these commands when we sit in our house, when we walk by the way and when we lie down and rise up. The central confession of Jewish biblical faith is thus connected to life and instruction in the family. In the New Covenant Scriptures - echoing and confirming the instructions given through Moses - fathers are told to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:5). The New Covenant commands take front and center, including the commands of Yeshua and His apostles. These include abiding in the Vine and walking in the Spirit. Again the family is paramount.
The Loss of the Next Generation
In the past I have lamented that we have lost a great number of our next generation. There are several reasons: the failure to disciple through the life of the congregation, the influence of higher educational institutions where our young people are socialized into immorality and secular thinking, congregational life that is perceived by our young as irrelevant and lacking power to transform people's lives. We have not prepared young people for their college years and do not provide supportive institutions for them during those years so they might stand strong. More critically, however, both the general Church world and the Messianic Jewish world in particular share a central problem: that we have not trained our people sufficiently in marriage and family life.
Marriage and Family Training
During my years leading a congregation, we offered both marriage seminars and parenting seminars. I think our record for our young people continuing in the faith into their adult years was good and certainly much better than the larger population of believers. This is also partly attributable to our full time day school for children and young people. However, looking back, I would have put greater emphasis on family life. I assumed that families were receiving the instruction from the pulpit and were enjoying a vibrant Messianic Jewish family life. Yet I have found in recent years that more families than I would have wanted did not have such a home life.
Here is my central point. Whether or not young people continue in the faith of their parents is primarily a factor of whether or not the life they see in the family is something they love and want to reproduce in their own families. The life of the congregation is secondary in the formation of children. The congregation is crucial for discipling parents into healthy family life. However, if the family is not really healthy, it is difficult to overcome the deficit in the next generation. We can sometimes do so, even with divorce, with the right supports in place, but families with a dull or boring spiritual life are great impediments to the goals of the Kingdom.
Marriage the Greatest Gift
A happy Yeshua centered marriage is the greatest gift that parents can give their children. The first step in intergenerational faith transmission is to disciple our couples into solid and loving marriages. For this to be done, it is crucial that spiritual leaders of congregations have solid and loving marriages and that they know how to pass on what they have attained to others. The disciplines of a happy marriage are rooted in dying to self according to Romans 6. When that self-centered root is overcome, marriage can flourish. Sometimes this requires spiritual healing so that those sensitive wounds no longer fester and provoke violent reactions or withdrawal. Learning how to treasure the other and to see them with Yeshua's compassion is a wonderful gift of God's grace available to couples.
Loving, Joyful and Disciplined Family Life
A rich and loving marriage can translate into loving and firm parenting. I have noticed over 37 years of ministry that strictness alone is not the key. Consistent patterns of discipline within the boundaries of biblical norms are important, but this is not enough. Successful families can vary in levels of strictness. Children do crave boundaries. However, more important is the quality of joy in the life of the family. In Christian homes of yesteryear there were special times at the table every night, the family altar, stories and much more. Jewish life provides wonderful daily, weekly and seasonal gatherings for family enrichment that are ordered by biblical times and seasons. From the earliest age, our children learned that the Sabbath evening was a wonderful time where they would have the attention of Mom and Dad, even when there were guests. The best food, joyful singing, engaging stories and laughter permeated the evening. The Jewish feasts were also such seasons. Our Passover Seder was never a somber occasion but one of joy, humor, laughter, and the solid content of the Passover story and its meaning in Yeshua. Bar Mitzvah training was also serious and joyful. It featured family trips including a New York heritage trip with Dad, a Broadway play for the girls and a baseball game in New York for the boys. Throughout my childrens' Bar and Bat Mitzvah training I would review and discuss with them the content of our discipleship book Growing to Maturity. Learning to chant the Hebrew text was also a time of enjoyable learning.
Quality family vacations are also an important time of bonding and memory. They need not be expensive and camping was a mainstay for us. We also sought to expose our children to conferences where the power of God was in evidence. Healings, supernatural impartations and accurate prophecy gave them immediate experience with the reality of God's Spirit. Young people also need a good presentation of answers to the arguments they will be given against our faith and a strong rationale to save their sexual expression for marriage.
Today's Generation of Parents
Generally, parents today have little understanding of how to do what we are presenting here. If they try to do spiritual things in the home, it is dull and awkward. They fear to enforce standards. They need to see how successful parents do it, which means they need to be partnered with a successful family. Parents depend on the congregational program to fill in the gap but it cannot do so; congregational teaching is a supplement to the home and cannot replace the responsibility to train children to live godly lives that God has assigned to parents.
In the 1970s and 1980s I was overjoyed because of the many swept into the Kingdom of God from the Jesus movement. The number of Jews who embraced Yeshua was a thrill. Yet this first generation of believers has been woefully equipped in the matters of family life. They are losing the second generation at an alarming rate - unprecedented in history. It will take an outpouring of revival with Kingdom extension to reverse this. However, this reversal can only be truly successful if we train those already brought into the Kingdom. Training in marriage and family is crucial. May we begin now with those we have in our midst! My main context in this article is the United States. This is also a huge challenge in Russia, Ukraine and Israel. In the Russian speaking world, Communism has crushed biblical family values. The effect on men has been devastating: passive, ineffective husbands and fathers; passive aggressive men who do not know how to love and maintain standards.
In Israel the trauma of the Holocaust and the libertine ideas of the West have produced a terrible lack of morals and discipline that make it hard for believers to attain biblical standards. My message is as relevant in the Russian speaking Messianic Jewish context and in Israel as it is in the United States. Please pray for us that the Lord will use Patty and I to be a source of family restoration in these communities.
|Let us know what you think - why not comment to this article. The authors of these articles are often involved in intense ministry and are thus unable to respond to most comments. As is normal with print and online magazines, Tikkun reserves the right to publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.|
Also in this issue of the newsletter:
|Eitan Shishkoff: Friendship is Forever|
|Moshe Morrison: Moshe's Messianic Musings|
|Asher Intrater: Death & Ressurection in all Things|
|I'm Loving It!|