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Parents: Take the John Newton Challenge

Last Updated: April 17, 2015

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

When it comes to subjects like lust, sexual purity, and pornography, much can be written about forgiveness for past sins, the strength to overcome addictive habits, and healing hidden hurts. But prevention is really the best medicine. We can prevent our exposure to things that defile the heart and mind. This can equip us to be holy, set apart unto God.

But the heart of holy living isn’t in creating a legal code, a list of things to avoid: “Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch.” Instead, a holy life is first a Christ-centered life. A mind that thinks Christ’s thoughts and a heart that is engrossed and fascinated with Him and His gospel enables us to say no in tempting moments. A man or woman immersed in the worship of Christ will not easily be gripped by idols.

And here is a crucial question for you parents: Are we seeing to it that our kids are equipped in this way?

Lasting Divergence

With so many “relevant” approaches and programs designed for youth in the church, still many students abandon their faith or are so biblically illiterate when they graduate that they are not prepared for the mature decisions of adulthood. Could it be that our churches have missed something vital? How can we equip them mentally and emotionally with a Christ-centered vision?

Youth pastor Steve Wright has been asking these questions for years, and when he published his research and thoughts in his new book, reThink, he was not prepared for the type of response he received. Already he’s been called to speak in numerous churches. David Michael, the pastor of parenting and family discipleship at Bethlehem Baptist Church (that’s John Piper’s church), has called Steve about using reThink as a part of their curriculum. What is all the buzz about?

Steve’s basic premise is that we need to rethink youth ministry. Steve calls the church to reconsider the place of parents in discipling children. Sadly many parents outsource the discipleship of their children to youth programs or the latest conferences. A very small percentage of Christian parents have an intentional plan of discipling their own children.

Many churches are starting to rethink their philosophy of youth ministry, but still have a number of questions about the how-tos. In response to this need Steve started Lasting Divergence, a free ministry resource to equip parents and pastors.

Lasting Divergence challenges churches with this question: “Does the church have enough courage to become relevant by becoming biblical?”

Is it Biblical?

“He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments.” (Psalm 78:5-7)

Does God expect parents to be the ones to lead the discipleship of their children? Absolutely.

Attached to the greatest commandment of Scripture (to love the Lord with all of our being) is this call to parents: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

This text tells us that one of God’s calls to parents is to daily and routinely discuss the words of God to their children. Joel Beeke comments about this passage, “Moses wasn’t suggesting a little talk, but diligent conversation and diligent instruction that flow from the burning heart of a parent. Moses says that words from God should be in a father’s heart. Fathers must diligently teach these words to their children.”

Psalm 118 tells us that the “tents” (individual homes) of righteous people will be filled with “glad songs” (v.15).

Abraham, our father of faith, modeled this so well with his own household. God reveals the reason why he chose Abraham to be the father of many nations: “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (Genesis 18:19).

In the New Testament, Paul calls upon fathers to “bring [children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

The John Newton Challenge

Steve Wright has a burden to equip parents to disciple their own children and to help churches equip their families for this model of youth ministry.

To do that he has started what he calls the John Newton Challenge. John Newton, author of Amazing Grace, wrote the following:

“I think, with you, that it is very expedient and proper that reading a portion of the word of God should be ordinarily a part of our family worship; so likewise to sing a hymn or psalm, or part of one, at discretion; provided there are some people in the family who have enough of a musical ear and voice to conduct the singing in a tolerable manner: otherwise, perhaps, it may be better omitted. . . . If you read and sing, as well as pray, care should be taken that the combined services do not run into an inconvenient length.”

Newton believed in the importance of regular family worship along with family instruction in the Word of God. Steve liked this quote because he found it both challenging and liberating. Challenging because he knew few families in the church really did anything like this. Liberating because the quote doesn’t prescribe a “right way” to do family worship.

How do we do this in our families?

1. Start slow and simple and build from there. Don’t try to do too much or draw it out. Keep a manageable time frame (15-20 minutes). Start with once or twice a week (i.e. Tues/Thurs).

2. Set a regular time. This allows everyone to plan for it. Pick time that is best for your family. Choose a time that is not hurried or pressured.

3. Choose a simple Bible reading plan. Steve has created a sample Bible reading plan for families. Read the Scriptures together and personalize them with brief story/illustration. Allow time for questions. Ask good questions (“What is one thing you got out of this text?”).

4. Allow time for prayer. Have a brief prayer to begin your time. Take prayer requests and write them down. Ask for volunteers to prayer for each one.

5. Seek to be as consistent as possible. Remember that not all family members need to be present to proceed. If a regularly planned time is not possible, don’t have to be rigid: seek to reschedule if needed.

6. Value the contributions of all those involved: God and family. Seek to create a healthy, friendly, enjoyable environment.

7. Remember, you can’t grow a garden overnight: it will take time and effort to make it like it could be and should be.

Steve is encouraging churches to equip families to have a daily encounter with the gospel, calling students to real spiritual formation and biblical repentance.

To learn more about what Steve is teaching, listen to this sermon from the reThink Conference.

A Call to the Challenge

Covenant Eyes is proud to call families to this challenge. We especially challenge Christian fathers to this. If this challenge seems intimidating, don’t let this scare you away from it. There are many resources available out there on doing family worship. Make the commitment and take the challenge!