It Takes A Village To Raise A Child
We’ve probably all heard of the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Most of us quite like it as a sentiment.
Becoming a new parent suddenly sheds light on how useful and necessary to survival your parents and friends are… for respite; for bringing food round after the birth; for being supportive and kind when you’re hormonal, sleep-deprived and in your pyjamas. The support that friends and family can give (for those of us who are fortunate to have these people around us) is deeply appreciated. In the days and weeks after Reu was born, we relied on family and friends in a way that we had never previously done so before. We were in a state of shock! As such, we were very thankful for the cake, cups of tea and company (well, most of the time!).
The midwife, health visitor and doctor constantly asked us during pregnancy and post-partum appointments, “Do you have good support around you?” and “Do you have family and friends close by?”
Now that we have a child, we know why. We definitely needed them. And though the kind of support we need changes over time, the need never goes away.
So yes, a village. A support network. Family and friends are definitely super helpful when raising a child, at least that was the case for us. And we’re so thankful for that help.
How Does The Church Fit In?
But does the same thing apply to the church? Do we really need the church to help us raise a child? How does that relationship work?
Something we found when reading resources on Christian parenting was that the main focus was on the family unit for evangelism and discipleship of our children. We’d want to commend this outlook – we would definitely say that family unit is the primary place where a child should be discipled.
It seems that these books are trying to correct a tendency for Christian parents to outsource discipleship to church youth leaders and Sunday school teachers. But our reflection is that the New Testament view of church is something much more holistic, much more inclusive, and much more collective. The family unit doesn’t seem to be the central feature of the New Testament – Christ and his bride, the church family, is. By church we’re not talking about an institution, but the people of God. God’s family. The community of believers.
There are (apparently) 100 uses of the word ἀλλήλων “one another” in the New Testament. These are commands given to the church family about how they are to live together. If you were looking for themes about what they are largely about, then loving each other, and the importance of unity in the church rank pretty high. Here are some examples:
Be devoted to one another in love (Ro 12:10)
Regard one another as more important than yourselves (Php 2:3)
Bear one another’s burdens (Ga 6:2)
Speak truth to one another (Ep 4:25)
Encourage and build one another up (1 Th 5:11)
Be hospitable to one another (1 Pe 4:9)
Be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving to one another (Ep 4:32)
In the glory days of the early church here’s how this happened:
”They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer[…] Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
(Acts 2v42; 46-47)
The community of believers were hanging out together, reading the Bible together, praying together and eating together.
So what were the children up to?
Presumably they were involved too.
Assuming that the church community is a place for children, and assuming that God’s plan for his church is the regular fellowship of Christians… what does it look like for Reuben to be loved, encouraged, served, accepted etc by the church? What does it look like for us to do these “one anothers” for other people’s children?
Practically Living This Out
Here are a few practical ideas.
Invite other people’s children into your life. Have a whole family round for lunch, or take another child from church swimming when you’re already going. Plan to invite another family from church along to an activity you’ve already got planned – maybe going for a walk, or visiting the local museum. Organise a group to come round and watch the latest sports match, and invite some of the older children from church to join in. Arrange to have coffee once a fortnight with one of the teenagers in church who shares some similar interests with you.
Why not think about something you could do this next week to get to know some of the other children in church? Writing this has prompted us to think about how we can, with God’s help, be better at this too – we’ve come up with some practical steps that we’re going to take.
As all this happens, children have the opportunity to witness Christian community in action, and to experience the “one anothers” taking place.
One of the things we love about our church is how our weekly mid-week meeting seeks to include children. Each week we start at 6pm so the children can eat with us and be involved for the first half of our time together. Sometimes this is slightly chaotic, but it’s great to feel we are getting to know the children, and that they’re part of the church community. This, alongside an intentionality to share life outside of more “formal” meetings, means that the children are increasingly becoming part of our church community. How could you do this with people at your church?
In all of this, here’s the crucial ingredient: as you do these things, be intentional to chat to the children. Don’t just settle for children socialising with children, and adults with adults. Chat to the children. Get to know them. Find out what’s important to them. Find out what they hope for, what they fear, what is going on in their lives right now. Understand them. Share age-appropriate things about your life too. And as you go, speak the truth of the gospel into the situations they face – both the joys and the struggles. Show them how the gospel is impacting the way you go about life, and the way you respond to situations. Pray with them.
The Apologetic Of Love
In John 13:35, Jesus is addressing his disciples for one of the last times before he goes to the cross. What he says here is really significant. He says this:
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
What’s he saying there? He’s saying that one of the primary ways that onlookers will see that we love and follow Jesus is this: by witnessing Christian community in practice. By seeing us loving one another.
What is true for our neighbours, colleagues, friends and relatives must also be true for our children.
We want to expose our children to the nitty-gritty of church life. We want them not solely to be farmed out to children-specific church programmes (though they have their place), but to be involved in the inter-generational, cross-cultural, socio-economic-divide-crossing network of relationships – to witness us doing the “one anothers”, and to be on the receiving (and ultimately giving!) end of them too.
We want them to see us self-sacrificially serve and love one another, just like Jesus.
We want them to witness our church family speaking deeply into one another’s lives about how the gospel impacts every area of life.
We want them to see that when we fall out we respond in a godly way as we extend grace and forgive one another, just like Jesus.
As they do, they see and experience a powerful apologetic for the gospel. And when they (Lord willing) become believers, they grow and are discipled in Christian community. They develop a robust, deep and broad view of how the gospel shapes every area of life. All of this takes place as our church families play their part in the raising of our children.
In writing this we’ve seen in ourselves a tendency to gravitate towards speaking to and spending time with adults when around church family. We really do believe, however, that we have a wonderful opportunity to invest in the lives of the children in our church, and so will be seeking to increasingly take these opportunities in future.
So these are our thoughts. The family unit is the primary place for the discipleship of our children. But the church can and should play an exciting and important part in displaying and proclaiming the gospel to our children, and raising them to be those who love Jesus and see how his kindness and grace wonderfully impacts everything.
What do you think? Why not share in the comments below your positive experiences of this, and ideas you have for how this be worked out in practice?