Thursday, July 27, 2006

Things I Learned at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (#9 - Parenting)

The one thing I was not thinking about when I joined the membership of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, or when I became an elder, was my valuation of children. Don't get me wrong. I had a high valuation of children. I'd worked for almost ten years at the state and national levels on children and family issues. By the time I left my job at the policy think tank and joined the staff at CHBC, I was something of a walking factbook on children's well-being and policy issues. I'd been in a significant number of states as an "expert from Washington" (a deadly moniker I assure you) and strategized with advocates and elected officials to improve the health and educational success of children around the country.

And, I had two children of my own. Precious girls beyond comparison, I thought. No, I had a fairly high view of children in the particular case of my own and of children abstractly. But I hadn't thought about the ways in which the local church witnesses to the goodness of God by how it cares for its children.

That changed when I met the Smiths. Jim was an elder in the church. In a membership of about 500, a full ninety percent probably benefitted from hospitality in his home! The man knew every member and watched them all like they were his children. Which was a feat in and of itself, because he and his wife Lynnette had six children of their own (ages 1 to about 15) and a niece they cared for as their daughter. Lynnette maintained a busy homeschool schedule while Jim worked a demanding government job. Yet despite all the business of life a large family created, they were fully committed to demonstrating the great blessing of parenting. I watched Jim. And he was for me a model of godly fathering that I never had. I'd never seen an African-American father of six children, all born in marriage, all by the same woman, all benefitting from the full-time presence of a father. Never seen it. And statistically speaking, seventy-percent of African-American children born out of wedlock will not see it in their own lives. But in the Smiths there was this model of faithfulness, chastity, care, sacrifice, and love.

Then there are the Schmuckers. A beautiful family of seven. Poor Jason is the only boy in a cohort of five ranging from 1 to 17 years. To sit at the Schmucker dinner table, or to watch them walk around the block, or to see how they serve together as a family is a thing of beauty. Matt is a masterful father. He'd blush at that and quickly point to his many faults. But he is. He's intentional, careful with the feelings and aspirations of his children, honors his wife -- which is the first and best gift a father can give his children, and he and Eli are Christ-centered in their parenting. What does that look like? It looks like all the things you might expect: attending ball games, changing diapers, making family time a priority, being attentive when at home, talking with his children, etc. And it looks like some things we don't often hear of parents doing: admitting their mistakes, teaching their boy to be a husband (not just a "man" in some abstract sense) and their daughters to be wives (not just women), aiming instruction at their hearts and not merely seeking behavioral conformity, and teaching all their children to value the work of the gospel over careers and education.

The Smiths and the Scmuckers are big families that have big impacts on the way I think about children. Blessed indeed is the man whose quiver is full!!

But there are tons of young couples who are remarkable for their commitment to children as well. I watched a significant number of young professional women opt for the higher calling of motherhood over rather prestigious accomplishments and careers in the world. They left the halls of Congress, law offices, corporate and international development, teaching and other pursuits to dedicate themselves full time to evangelizing and discipling the young lives entrusted to them by the Lord. A lion's courage lives in these women. They despised this world and give themselves to entering the next with their children in tow. And their children will rise up and call them blessed.

Then there was the privilege of serving at CHBC as the Asst. Pastor of Children and Families. In that capacity I worked alongside a team of outstanding staff and volunteers in children's ministry! Here's where my valuation of children was raised immeasurably. These women wrote curriculum worthy of use in every church in the world! And that's no exaggeration. They exposed every child in the church to a systematic theology from ages 4 thru 10. They introduced them in substantive ways to heroes of the Christian faith, great hymns of the faith, and classic Christian literature. With approaches suitable to the ages of the children, they endeavored to feed the children the thick red meat of the Scriptures, to give them iron-enriched sustenance from the Word ofGod! Here, I learned that the capacity of children to grasp something of the majesty and glory of God was far beyond what most adults imagine or ever set out to discover. And I learned that I could give my children a far richer heritage in the Lord than I perhaps thought possible.

All of this--from having lots of babies (last year 32 in a congregation of about 500) to giving yourself to goly parenting to operating the most God-exalting, theologically-rich children's ministry possible--occurred in the context of the local church covenant, where we joined together to "bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends." I learned that his covenant could be lived out in a powerfully fruitful and countercultural way in the local church.

Having 4, 5 or 6 children sets you apart in the city. Guarding your family against the temptations and pressures of a sex-craved, superficial, materialistic, wrecklessly-independent youth culture -- not by clenched-fist dictatorial decrees but by patient, wise instruction -- sets you apart in this authority-despising culture. Dying to the world enough to pour your life into your children testifies to this perishing world that Jesus is worth giving to the next generation and that children are far more valuable than the trinkets of promotions and power deals. And doing these things, not in isolated instances but as a corporate witness, amplifies the value we place on life and children. The church becomes a large-screen projection of what's important and helps a narcissistic convenience society to see something of immense value outside of itself. I'm a better parent with a higher appreciation of children and thelocal church because of my time at CHBC.

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