Satan has a curious way of tempting us to think that two things, which are not actually opposed to one another, are in competition (see: Adam and Eve v. God). If a football team only cares about scoring more points then there’s a good chance they will lose some high scoring games. Conversely, if they only care about keeping the other team from scoring then they will lose some low scoring games. But if a football team goes to practice everyday thinking that the men on the other side of the ball are opponents to be beat rather than teammates to be refined then it will be a wonder if they win any games at all. 

Sharing the gospel with your family is not the opponent of sharing the gospel in your community. The game is the same, “Go, therefore and make disciples” and a win is a win, more souls whose faith, love and obedience is in Christ. That being said, I believe family worship lends itself to and supports long lasting community outreach. 

Richard Baxter understood this reality. Serving the church of Kidderminister, England for a total of 15 years between 1641-1660, the result of his ministry, by God’s grace, was remarkable. “It’s been said that when Baxter came to Kidderminster, scarcely one family on each street among the 800 families honored God in family worship. By the end of his ministry, there were streets on which every family did so” (Beeke and Pederson, Meet the Puritans). Baxter wrote, “You are not likely to see any general reformation, till you procure family reformation.”

Here are seven reasons why family worship is a good step toward community outreach.

Our family is part of our community.

When Andrew first saw Jesus, it says in John’s gospel that the first thing he did was to go find Peter and tell him. In Acts, we find Cornelius, Lydia, and the Philippian jailer as examples of the head of the household coming to follow Jesus and the rest of the household following. Baxter believed this was an example of the adults, especially the head of the house, laboring in the gospel that the rest of the household would follow Christ as well. Why should we expect God to cause the Ethiopian eunuchs of the world to pass by us (Acts 8) if we pass by our own children every day?

It’s about order…not only

Prioritizing making Jesus known to our kids doesn’t mean we don’t care about making Jesus known to our community. The gospel message had an order, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16) but we’d never claim that this order means Paul didn’t care about the gospel going to the Gentiles. Jesus’ own mission was first to his own people, Israel (Mt. 10:5-6; 15:24) but we’d not claim that His ministry of making himself known was out of balance, nor did it mean that He never shared the gospel of His kingdom with Samaritans (Jn 4:1-45) or Gentiles (Mt 15:21-28). Jesus’ to the disciples was to be a witness to Him, starting in Jerusalem, and then spreading from there (Luke 24:47). Might I suggest that perhaps your family is your Jerusalem.

We need more workers who can do work

I have often heard (and said) something like: “Christians need to have their kids involved in “blank” so that the church can reach our community.” The blank might be filled with anything from public schools to Parks and Rec volleyball. My point isn’t to argue the pros and cons of any of these activities but rather to question whether this is necessarily evangelistic at all. It's not a question of “place” but of “purpose”. To put it flatly, standing in a field isn’t harvesting a field. Harvesters have to know why they are in the field and what to do about it. That’s not to say they have to be experts, but they can’t know nothing nor can they be there to pick flowers. Kids can help, the question we have to ask is “how”.

Let me switch to a different biblical metaphor. There is a spiritual battle happening and our kids are a key battlefield.  I’m no history buff, but I’ve heard it said that at the Battle of Stalingrad the Russian army paired their new recruits, giving one a rifle and the other some ammo. They told them that when the soldier with the rifle was shot then the soldier with the ammo was to pick up the rifle and keep going. Oh, and if you retreated, the Russian officers, who were behind the front line, would shoot you. Deploying 11 year-old latchkey soldiers is not the Great Commission. Too often, whether we realize it or not, we’ve been sending our kids into the Battle of Stalingrad with little training and few weapons while Christian parents sit at home, far from the front line, and feel good about all the “outreach” they are doing. Instead, we need families who, together, engage evangelistically in whatever they are doing in the community.

Now, that doesn’t mean that kids do nothing. The opposite ditch is no good either. We can’t huddle our kids far away from the battle because the battle will always find us. We can’t pretend that the things the Bible calls weapons (prayer and the Word) are anything less than what they are. We need workers for the harvest but the farm owning family knows you don’t put your kid behind the wheel of the combine when they can’t reach the pedals. The family works together to bring in the harvest, the kids watch dad do work and are taught skills that are helpful and fitting to their level of maturity and understanding. 

Let me be more specific in my applications. They need to see us in prayer for their unbelieving teammates. They need to know that unless unbelievers come to faith they are condemned to hell. They need us to explain that we have people over for dinner or serve our neighbors, not only because it's an act of kindness, but because we want to see them won for Christ. And they need to be involved in the task. When your kids start praying for the same lost people that you are praying for then we have more workers for the harvest.

Sparring at home prepares the family for street fights

Coming back to the biblical analogy of warfare. We are to be knights and our kids are squires. The squire understands what he is being trained for and contributes right now according to his level of development. Our kids need to see us engaged in the battle. They need to see why it matters. They need to be trained on the weapons and, quite frankly, too many Christian parents could desperately use the spiritual workout as well, that is, if they are actually spiritual people (1 Cor. 3:1-2). We need to be trained by constant practice (Heb. 5:11-14) and the family is a safe and loving spiritual wrestling mat. 

What will happen when God DOES save your neighbor? Who will teach them to follow Christ? If you can teach a 10 year-old about sanctification or how to read their Bible then teaching an adult is no problem. When we disciple our kids we are not only training up the next generation but we are brushing up on our own skills, discipling our own bodies (1 Cor. 9:24-27). When our kids see us laboring for the gospel, they learn.

On a mission trip to Guatemala a few years back, I had the opportunity to eat lunch with a handful of teenage missionary kids. As we talked, they explained that their peers (other teenage missionary kids in Guatemala) fell mostly into two categories: those who were passionate about Christ and involved in missionary work and those who were not following Christ and doing drugs. I asked them why they thought these groups took two very different paths. The difference? One set of missionary parents were not only seeking to reach Guatemalans with the gospel but their own kids as well. These parents actively involved their kids in the missionary work alongside themselves. It was a family calling. These kids saw the battle, were involved appropriately in the battle, but weren’t left to battle alone. 

It is part of walking in wisdom toward outsiders

In Colossians 3 there is a series of instructions on how Christian families are to operate. Right before the final greeting of the letter and following closely behind these instructions is a final command in Colossians 4:5, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” We might say that Paul has more than the commands to Christian families in view when he makes this summary command but we can’t say that he doesn’t have them in view at all. In other words, he is either summarizing the familial instructions or the whole letter but, either way, those familial instructions are included. 

The question then is this: If we have the greatest relational ties to our immediate family and spend the majority of our time with them, are we making the most of our time if we aren’t making the most of our time with them? If we share the gospel with neighbors down the street but fail to share it with our kids down the hall, have we walked in wisdom toward outsiders? And if our family lives are a mess, what witness is that to the rest of the world? How long will the church’s outreach be effective if the families inside the church are defective?

By God’s common grace, unbelieving people know to care about their families, even if they define “family” poorly. At the same time, when we look at the world, families are a mess. We are to be set apart (James 1:27).  If the world looks at our families and finds that they are no different, we will not be able to answer with the truth and grace of how Christ organizes and motivates our family lives…and why it’s so good.  

It fights the disease rather than reducing the symptoms

Baxter wrote, “It is an evident truth that most of the mischiefs that now infest or seize upon mankind throughout the earth are caused by ill-governed families.” This statement is just as true today. The statistics correlating broken and fatherless families with all sorts of legal and social issues are ubiquitous. Well meaning churches come up with outreach programs to reach kids in difficult and troubled situations. That can be a good thing. I’ve experienced the benefits first hand. Until parents learn to commit their families to Christ it can be nothing more than one step forward and two steps back for the community. While the church stitches up a cut or two, the Body of Christ is bleeding out and those who are saved must carry the family scars for the rest of their lives. 

When will a generation come who is bold enough to reject the attitude of Hezekiah who, after hearing the troubles that would come to later generations, said that it was good because “there will be peace and security in my days”. If we do not take up our responsibilities to our family then we will have more and more need for community outreach with fewer and fewer people sharing the gospel. If this generation neglects their families then it will be their grandkids that the next generations of churches will be trying to reach in the community. Removing our kids from church service makes for quieter pews today and empty pews tomorrow.

It removes the outreach bottleneck

I must start by saying that when we survey all the New Testament examples of the church meeting the needs of others, by far and away they are meeting needs within the Body and not outside of it. Paul says it directly in Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” That’s not to say that we should not meet needs in our community, we should, Paul does say “everyone”. That is to say that just as each Christian has a first responsibility to their family, the church has a first responsibility to the family of God.

While there are examples of these “need meeting ministries” being centralized to some degree (Acts 4:34-5:2; 6:1-6) the command is for every Christian. It’s hard to imagine that Paul expected most of the community outreach in Ephesus to be centralized when the only widows who could be enrolled were those who had brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, cared for the afflicted, and devoted themselves to every good work (1 Timothy 5:10). But Paul has already told the church at Ephesus as much. In Ephesians 4:12 he tells them that the work of pastors and teachers is  “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”

It sounds like most of the outreach “program” of the church was individual Christians actually loving their neighbors. There are situations where the church must pool its resources to meet needs or accomplish tasks that an individual Christian, family or small group is unable to accomplish on their own. However, the majority of the work is the church being deployed to see needs and meet them. When you serve your neighbor, that is the church doing community outreach.

Final Thought

There's a concern that if a church emphasizes the spiritual care of their families that it must necessarily be to the exclusion of the care for the greater community. While we can certainly idolize family, if we are worshipping God as a family (not worshiping family), it will drive us TO the mission, not away from it. The issue then is not that the family, but the family's mission. Is the purpose of your family to make Jesus known? If so, you will make Him known in your home AND outside of it.