December 12, 2017

Graduating Your Children to Christian Service

Don Johnson

My title sounds a bit formal, but I mean for this article to be more of a personal testimonial to my own dear mother, in her ninety second year, still irrepressible, but slowing down physically these days. The title owes some inspiration to a visit to Greenville for my daughter’s graduation from University as well. I was reflecting on the progress of my children in Christian service which led me to think of my mother and her children. My mother has four children. All of us have been active in Christian service as adults now for over thirty years each. If you added it all up it equals over one hundred and thirty years in the Lord’s work. Now, to be sure, the Lord has something to do with this. But the Lord uses people to accomplish his purposes and one person who contributed to the Christian ministry of my mother’s children is my mother herself, a dear lady who grew up on a farm in central Alberta with some obstacles in the way of a dedicated Christian life and ministry.

To start with, my grandmother, the daughter of Christian missionaries, married my grandfather who was not a Christian at the time of their marriage. My grandfather made a profession of faith late in life, but for many years the spiritual input in the home came from my grandmother. (Though grandpa was a man of integrity – but in my mother’s formative years, he didn’t know the Lord.) Although grandma was a spiritual influence, my mother didn’t become a born again believer until she left home and set out on her own.

My mother’s home was stable but like many Prairie farmers, times were difficult during her teenage years – a little event called the Great Depression came and went during that time. In spite of financial obstacles, my mother went to nursing school to become a Registered Nurse. While in training, she met some Christians who led her to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. After nurses training, she went to a small Bible college in Alberta, then on to a college in Oregon where she took a B.A. in what we might call “Christian Ministries” today. As I recall it, she worked her way through all these years of education.

After her education, she went to a small oil town in Alberta to work and help in a small local church. The town was booming, oil had been discovered, and it was (by all reports) a bit of a wild place. The church she was working in was the first church of any kind (except perhaps the Catholics) in that district. It was a small work, but she came to help the pastor, teach Sunday school, and do whatever she could in that ministry. Shortly after her arrival, my dad showed up in the church, and the rest is history.

Mom and dad carried on in that church for most of the rest of their married life (my dad has been in heaven now almost five years). They raised their family there and the result is as I mentioned above. I take you through that brief history to set up this question: what was it about my mother’s life that influenced the Christian service of her children?

A Bible-immersed home

I’ve written about this elsewhere, but this is something I can’t emphasize enough. Christian people need to be Bible people. They need to make their homes filled with Bible reading, Bible instruction, Bible standards, even Bible decorations… my mother had plaques on the walls with Bible verses, a relief (as I recall) of Daniel in the lion’s den, and so on. When we were little children, my parents read Bible stories to us (morning, noon, and night, mom says). Later we read the Bible on a regular basis. I recall seeing my mother reading her own Bible and doing her best to live by it. And of course a Bible home meant regular church activity. We just were there. All. The. Time. And that is not to say our church overburdened its families with activities, but we were heavily involved. Mom made sure we were involved. (I, alas, even had to participate in a church children’s choir because it was what was doing — I am notoriously non-musical, but that made no difference to mom.)

A Soul-winning testimony

My mother made a lot of contacts for the Lord through the years. Often these were neighbourhood children and their families and fairly often these were families who were down on their luck and not well received by more sophisticated people. But mom would see some kids to get to church, and some adults, too. She would take them under her wing, endure disappointments on a regular basis, but always have someone she was trying to help and doing everything she could to make sure those folks got to church. Every summer, she was recruiting kids to go to church camp, and she went herself, as camp nurse or teacher or any other capacity that could be a help. Later, some of those young people who really did get saved were able to go to Christian college because she and dad helped them go. I’m glad to say that some of those folks are still living faithful Christian lives today. My mother’s example is one that gave us a heart for Christian service. The life of a disciple-making disciple is just what you do.

A commitment to character formation

My mother will tell you that she doesn’t believe you need to discipline a child physically – but that is not how she lived her life! I believe this is one of those cases where there might have been theories in her head, but in reality practical necessity led her to a fairly good balance. Yes, I believe discipline is necessary (in many forms), but my mother (and my father) consistently taught their children right and wrong, using discipline as necessary and many conversations and questions and instructions to help their children know how they ought to behave. These matters cannot be left undone. They are not the be all and end all of child-rearing, but without them character is not fully developed. My mother did not shirk her task in this area, though she might tell you she made mistakes and wishes she could have done better. Perhaps she did, but she left an indelible impression on our lives.

Of course, I am writing this piece for mother’s day coming up. You might think that my mother is pretty near perfect. I don’t mean to say that. My mother is a sinner saved by grace. She grew up in another era when things were done differently than today, perhaps. But some of the most important things she did were involving her children in the ministry of the local church and living a consistent testimony before them. These things make Christian service a natural lifestyle for all of us. I’m glad that my siblings have married Christians, as I did, and our families have replicated the same kind of service for the Lord. I hope that our children will persist in this kind of lifestyle. It is the kind of life that is much lacking in our culture, and alas, in our churches as well. May your home learn to reflect an abiding passion for the Bible and souls as you raise your children for the Lord.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

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