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Teach them diligently: A case study in family life

By James Bradford

John Drakeford dedicated one of his books: "To my two sons, Warwick and Brenton, teachers in the art of family living, who in the process have put gray hairs in my head, bills in my pocket, illustrations in my sermons, happiness in my home, and pride in my heart." The confessions of a true parent.

Few priorities rank higher in ministry than the nurturing of strong families. Family life is a microcosm of church life. The battle for values in our society will be won or lost in the family arena. It is here that either world changers are nurtured or social conformists are created.

Kant, the philosopher, once remarked that "parents usually educate their children merely in such a manner that, however bad the world may be, they may adapt themselves to its present conditions." Is there an alternative to that sort of cultural accommodation? Fortunately, the clear family building mandate of Deuteronomy 6:6,7 gives us hope beyond just blending in. The transforming call is to "teach them diligently"–at home, in the marketplace, wherever one’s circle of influence permits the imprinting of the family unit with timeless vision and values.

Let me illustrate by introducing you to the Brooks family. Dave and Lynelle began attending Newport-Mesa Christian Center over 20 years ago–just 3 weeks after they were married. Today their family continues to be involved at the heart of the church’s ministry. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then certainly a case study like this is worth at least a hundred articles.

The Brookses would be the first to admit that their family life is not perfect. Neither is it their inclination to draw attention to themselves. They are, however, a wonderful example of a family making a difference in their world. Their influence as salt and light starts in the home, is reinforced by the church, and extends to the world.

A case in point

Dave is a police captain, helicopter pilot, and the commander of the support services division of the Costa Mesa Police Department in California. He has also been the president of the Police Association and the western regional director of Airborne Law Enforcement. Lynelle is a registered pediatric nurse and has recently served as the PTA president of one of the local junior high schools. Both are active in the community and are often called upon to speak to civic groups and public school classes.

At church Dave and Lynelle have both served on the board of elders and have given oversight to numerous ministries for children, young people, and college students. They presently coordinate our Royal Family Kids Camp ministry, which involves 100 abused and neglected children from Orange County in a 1-week summer camping experience each year. Hurting children are exposed to God’s love and the influence of healthy adults. Some of the children are eventually adopted by church families.

Dave and Lynelle have three beautiful daughters who are also leaders. They are involved extensively in the church’s youth and children’s ministries, camping programs, and missions trips, not to mention school athletics and drama. Crissy is beginning her first year of college, having completed public high school with an almost straight-A average. While in high school she was vice-president of the student body. Cori is now beginning her junior year at the same high school. Besides being a cheerleader, she too is involved in student government. Katie is a high school freshman and has been a youth rep leader in the church’s junior high ministry.

How has this family applied the principles of Deuteronomy 6:6,7 and become so effective at being "salt and light" in their world? Here is what I found.

A fun place to be

The Brookses make their home life fun and enjoyable. They intentionally try to create positive experiences for the family. Everyone, including the girls, is given input and opportunity for involvement. Home for them is a place full of humor, laughter, and–most importantly–respect. They are never allowed to call each other names, even in jest, and "snarl at each other" [their words]. No wonder they look forward to going home.

Dave and Lynelle have also communicated to the girls that they are each loved and respected as individuals. This message has been reinforced by regular identification with their daughters’ activities–whether sports, drama, or ministry. "Be there" is their motto. The girls feel that their parents really like them. In fact, Lynelle keeps a journal addressed to each of them into which she makes personal entries for them to keep.

Not a lot of rules

The Brooks family does not have a lot of rules but, rather, a broad set of expectations centered in certain nonnegotiable values. Those values include everyone’s participation in house chores; being together as a family; being friends with each other; not expecting others to conform to their preferences; being willing to show others what to do before telling them; and respecting boundaries. Wherever possible, trust replaces the need for rules.

Dave and Lynelle never question each other in front of the girls. Together they have tried to set clear boundaries, present a unified front, and provide secure leadership. Dave also took responsibility to help break patterns of childhood whining whenever Mom was around and to teach the girls to acknowledge her presence warmly when she would arrive home from outside responsibilities. Thus respect and honor for each other were constantly cultivated in the context of both discipline and freedom.

A lot of prayer

Bathing the home in prayer has been another important key for the Brooks family. The girls have some meaningful memories of awaking in the night to find Lynelle praying over them in their beds, asking God to touch their lives, to protect them, and to use them. Those experiences have left lasting impressions.

Lynelle, however, claims that many of the prayers offered over the girls have really been for herself–prayers for the grace and wisdom she personally needs to parent effectively. As a pastor, I have often seen the whole family at the altar following a Sunday evening service, seeking God for His grace in their lives.

Whatever you do, get involved

Against this backdrop of a secure family life, Dave and Lynelle have intentionally encouraged broad involvement outside the home. They have challenged their daughters to explore many activities. Then, whether in sports, school functions, musical productions, or youth ministry, it is left up to the girls to decide what they want to be involved with long-term. The only exception is church attendance–which is not optional.

Dave and Lynelle credit their own high-involvement ethic to being pastors’ kids growing up in smaller churches. Coming to Newport-Mesa as newlyweds, they naturally decided not only to attend but to get fully involved. Now even the girls know the family quotables by heart: "The key to liking something is being involved." "If you don’t like something, don’t whine but do something about it." "If you are involved, you must give." Not surprisingly, the family gravitates toward other get involved types as personal friends.

The church’s role

The Brookses also credit strong pastoral leadership for their family’s health and involvement. Just before Newport-Mesa’s remarkable growth in the late 1970s, Dr. George 0. Wood, the senior pastor, asked Dave and Lynelle to volunteer as youth leaders. That timely and strategic assignment began to knot them permanently into the fabric of the church’s life.

They learned from Wayne Tesch, the associate pastor, that friendships grow best when people serve side by side. He rightly affirmed that shared memories and experiences forge strong relational bonds. As a social center, the church also provided other significant adults with whom the Brookses’ daughters could identify. These have reinforced Dave and Lynelle’s role as parents and enriched the girls’ lives with lasting adult friendships.

The practical and applicable teaching of God’s Word has made a difference as well. Sunday messages have often spoken to the very issues the Brookses were dealing with as a family during the week. The Spirit actively works with the Scriptures to shape family life. Understandably, the family genuinely appreciates when real life issues are dealt with from the pulpit.

The Brookses emphasize how important it is for the church to offer a broad range of involvement opportunities for both children and young people. "Kids need it to be strong," say the parents. The girls are constantly challenged by youth leaders to invest in others. The young people are even asked to write down the names of others they will begin praying for and spending time with each year. The key is extensive targeted ministry opportunities that reach and involve the younger generations in ministry.

"Teach them diligently," God commanded. Our broken world desperately needs all of us as pastors and families to obey.