The world was a very different place in 1979. Communism was very much alive. We were caught up in the Nuclear Arms Race. The Iron Curtain totally closed off the former USSR and Eastern European nations. The Bamboo Curtain isolated Southeast Asia. Countless wars raged in Africa. Apartheid isolated the blacks from the whites and South Africa from everyone else. The Arabs and Jews were trying to destroy each other in the Middle East. Central America was locked in civil war. If someone had told me that in 21 years a church would be planted in every one of the 171 nations of the world that had a city of at least 100,000 inhabitants, I would have been among the first to say this was impossible. But God likes a Mission Impossible.
July 2000 is a date for the history books. That is when God finished another of his episodes of Mission Impossible. What we have called the Six-Year Plan or the Evangelization Proclamation
was completed. A church of disciples now meets in every one of these 171 nations. You may wonder about Africa. Yes, even there. Even in China? Yes, even there. Every nation in the Middle East? Yes, even there.
Are the International Churches of Christ a youth movement? I hope so. We are trying to be. An often heard comment of older visitors to our church services is, “Everyone seems so young!” Some of them mean that in a negative way, but I take it positively. The death knell of a religious movement is the loss of its young people. In so many denominations, their dying churches are mostly populated with members older than 40. Now, there is nothing wrong with being over 40 – I am 59. But, shouldn’t there be more young people than older people in God’s church? The young provide so much of the energy, enthusiasm and idealism that the healthy church body needs. For several years in the Kingdom of God, we neglected our young people. But we have repented.
Things are changing powerfully and rapidly. The first change was to energize our children’s ministries, “Kingdom Kids,” with top-notch curriculums and teaching materials. This project, headed by Kingdom Teacher Gordon Ferguson, took hundreds of hours, several hundreds of thousands of dollars and two years to complete. Now we have children’s ministries that are second to none. The second change was to restore a major evangelistic focus to the many college and university campuses. World Sector Leaders Marty and Chris Fuqua have been given
the charge of coordinating the building of great campus ministries all over the world. The third change came last year when Kip McKean called all of the churches to launch an unprecedented effort to make disciples of our own children, and to reach out to teens in our communities. Strong teen ministries are essential for strong churches.
Someone has said that no amount of success can make up for failure at home. All disciples dream that their children will grow up to love God and serve him with all of their hearts – that they have DEEP IMPACT. The promise of God contained in Proverbs 22:6 brings us great comfort. Yet a vitally important condition precedes that promise: “Train a child in the way he should go.” Experience shows us that this is much easier said than done. A quick scan of God’s powerful leaders of the Old Testament looks like a who’s who of parental failure. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, Gideon, Eli, Samuel, David, Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah all had at least one child who was not faithful to God. What is the problem?
Training, or lack of it, is the problem. Anyone successful in a sport understands training. It requires commitment. It requires discipline. It requires focus. It requires time. All the great men mentioned above made major contributions to God’s Kingdom, but somehow did not pour enough of themselves into the family. Too often today we are caught in a struggle between family and ministry. We can fail to realize that family is not supposed to be in competition with ministry. Rather, it should be the most important part of ministry. God emphasized the importance
of bringing up our children to be faithful disciples when he made it a condition for being an elder in his church. Paul, writing about elders in 1 Timothy 3:5, says, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” It is all too common in raising children, just as it is in marriage, to think that merely being a disciple will assure success. Not true. All of God’s promises have conditions …
Even before Gloria and I became disciples, we had a dream for our three daughters Staci, Kristi and Keri. In the different churches where we had been members, about half of the teens fell away who had parents that were members. So many of the parents lived in fear that their kids would not remain faithful. It seemed they breathed a sigh of relief if they could just get them into a religious college somewhere, feeling that was about as good as they could hope for. Many of the teens were bored, uninspired and unchallenged by their teen groups and by the churches in general. That was not the dream we had for our girls. We wanted more for our children than just barely getting by. We wanted them to use our faith as a starting point and to grow from there.
Today we honor our teens. No, this is not National Teen Week or graduation time. It is just the right thing to do. Stand and Deliver is an inspiring movie about teens, and it is a true story. In it Edward James Olmos stars as Jaime Escalante, a man who gave up a high-paying job in electronics to teach inner city high school students. He discipled them, and they became champions . . . in calculus.