Why Churches Need to Build Up Families

One of my tasks this week is to read through the publisher’s proof of the revised and updated edition of Counseling One Another: A Theology of Inter-Personal Discipleship, which is being released in January. Below, are some thoughts on the importance of local churches discipling husbands, wives, and children and, yes, even grandparents.

We must also intentionally work to strengthen every marriage in the church, because there is no such thing as a static marriage. Every marriage is either growing stronger or it is weakening. Since marriage is the most foundational human relationship, the marriage and family-life passages of Scripture must be regularly taught from the pulpit and studied in small groups and one-to-one settings (Eph. 5:22–6:4; Col. 3:16–21; 1 Peter 3:1–7). Husbands need to be taught how to love their wives sacrificially and lead them unselfishly. Wives also need to be encouraged and instructed regarding how to fulfill their God-ordained role in the home. Parents need to be equipped to shepherd their children in the ways and knowledge of Christ. The local church committed to the Great Command will find that proactive family discipleship will go a long way to strengthening existing relationships and equipping each member of the family for God-honoring living, which will become an effective outreach to a world shattered by sin.

Richard Baxter, a Puritan minister in the 1600s, is most readily recognized as the author of The Reformed Pastor. This publication was not entitled “reformed” for doctrinal reasons, but rather because it called for a reformation among fellow ministers of the gospel. It was corrective counsel in book form. Since its original appearance in 1656,  The Reformed Pastor has been a sober call to ministers to be serious about the gospel and their own personal holiness. In his Preface written in 1829, William Brown states, “hard must be the heart of that minister, who can read it without being moved, melted, and overwhelmed, under a sense of his own shortcomings; hard must be his heart, if he be not roused to greater faithfulness, diligence, and activity in winning souls to Christ.”

However, there is another aspect of Baxter’s pastoral ministry that is not as well known: that is, his devotion to family discipleship. He was convinced that one of the most important areas where the members of a local church need serious training is that of biblical family living, and his primary focus was on fathers:

We must have a special eye upon families, to see that they are well ordered, and the duties of each relation performed. The life of religion, and the welfare and glory of both the Church and the State, depend much on family government and duty. If we suffer the neglect of this, we shall undo all. What are we like to do ourselves to the reforming of a congregation, if all the work be cast on us alone; and masters of families neglect that necessary duty of their own, by which they are bound to help us? If any good be begun by the ministry in any soul, a careless, prayerless, worldly family is like to stifle it, or very much hinder it; whereas, if you could but get the rulers of families to do their duty, to take up the work where you left it, and help it on, what abundance of good might be done! I beseech you, therefore, if you desire the reformation and welfare of your people, do all you can to promote family religion … Get masters of families to do their duty, and they will not only spare you a great deal of labour, but will much further the success of your labours.

It is my conviction that churches that will concentrate a good amount of their discipleship energy on the heads of households will not only perform God’s will, but will also end up cutting their “crisis counseling” load by a large percentage. This is not to say, of course, that well-ordered families are the solution to all our woes, but we would be exceedingly foolish to ignore the priority that God Himself has placed on them and their tremendous help to further the work of His church.

[Excerpted from Counseling One Another: A Theology of Inter-Personal Discipleship. The eBook is currently available, print edition will be released next month by Shepherd Press.]

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