Families and Discipleship

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” A short topic featuring Brother Clayton Shenk as he discusses modeling Christ’s discipleship to our families.

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We greet you in Jesus name. Proverbs 22:6:

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

I was speaking out in Minnesota at a youth conference on the topic: “If I Had My Teenage Years to Live Over Again.” What things would I have done differently if I could do it over again? On the way home from that speaking assignment, my wife asked the question: “Will you some day give a topic ‘If I Had My Children to Raise Over Again’ – all the things you wish you would have done differently.” So that started me thinking: what can I do to make sure that I live with no regrets. Well, I have come to the conclusion that you can’t do it. You are going to get to the end of your life and say “If only I could do it over again.” But I want to make sure that I do it very, very clearly and as best I can by God’s direction.

I began to ponder and think through some questions. One of the ideas – If you want to know what a man believes, don’t look at his children, look at his grandchildren. What will my grandchildren believe? I began to ponder, I want my grandchildren to be singers. I want my grandchildren to be debt free. There were a number of things that I wanted for my grandchildren, but I want to conform this and I used that question a number of times – What do I want for my grandchildren?

When Curtis came to ask if he could date Kelly – I asked – Could you tell me what your vision is for your grandchildren? I gave him 15 areas that I would like for him to think through before I let you date my daughter.  I want to know what your children will look like. So we ought to think that through. He never thought of that before.

One of the things I want to say, I am not chosen here because I am a perfect dad.  I have made mistakes. There are lots and lots of things that I should have done differently. There are lots of things I could tell you in my hall of shame. It’s huge, right? By God’s grace, He has given some benefits, and I want to share those things with you and encourage you along the way. Spend more time with your children.

One of the things I asked the older ministers in life. So if you had your ministry to do over again, What would you do differently? Every one of the ministers I talked to said the same thing. Spend more time with your children. So I said, OK, the next question is: How do you do it? I have all these evening meetings. I have all these assignments. How do you spend more time with your children?  They all had the exact same answer. I don’t know!

Therefore, I said, I have to figure it out. I am going to make sure that I do the next thing. Okay, Family night.  We decided that Monday night is our family night and we are going to make sure that is guarded. I had somebody ask me this past week whether I could come speak for their PTF on Monday night, I said no! I am not available Monday evening.  That is family time. I want to spend more time with my family.  I want to make sure that they know that is a very high priority in my life.

The next thing – we have teen encounter. What I aim to do…my wife and I, once a month…the schedule doesn’t always happen. This is not near as regular as family night, but once a month we aim to take our teenagers out for supper. We just have a good time and allow them to share what is on their hearts. We show what is on our hearts. Sometimes there is an agenda and sometimes there is not. But they enjoy teen encounter. I encourage every family that has teenagers to set aside time to have open dialogue and open discussion. Sometimes they say – Dad, we think there is an inconsistency in your life.

Another thing that I want to do with my children to spend more time with them is they go along with me. If somebody comes along and says, hey, can you come out for a week to preach? I say only if you let my family come along. If you have provisions for the whole family, then I will come and preach for you. I am not going to be like my grandfather who would go out and preach for a week or two and leave his family home on the farm to do all that work. I am going to take my family along with me.

Another thing we do is on their twelfth birthday, mom and I take them out for a breakfast. We welcome them to the adult world. We explain what happens as an adult. We explain the changing of the body from a child body to an adult body. Why God did that and the whole purpose of that and the design of that. Then we say any time you have a question you ask us an adult question. It is an excellent thing to spend more time with your family.

Hike a trail:  I took my three sons when Kevin was 18, Austin 16 and Trevor 14, I took a 6 month sabbatical and I hiked the Appalachian Trail.  I remember sitting up there on Pulpit Rock, overlooking I81 with traffic going back and forth and all this rush, rush.  I said, Pity the man who can’t take 6 months off to spend time with his children. It is just an important time. Later I took my girls on a 5 week trip out to California. It is very, very important that we make a high priority for our children for they are important to us.

Principle versus standards: I asked Donnie Weaver one time.  Donnie, I would like to have the secret of your family. There were 8 siblings in his family and all of those children left the church that they were brought up in and went to a more conservative church. Whatever conservative means – you understand what I am talking about. Right? They left. That is not the experience of my parents. It is not the experience of my grandparents.  I asked, I would sort of like to know how your parents did it?  He said, they taught the principle versus standards.

Principles never change. Right? Standards change, but principles never change. So preach that.  So one of the things I teach my children is that you yield your preference. We all have preferences. The Bible tells us in honor prefer one another. We surrender our preferences to the preferences of the brotherhood. When my daughter Kelly married into the Beachy Amish church, She said – Dad, if you had not taught us to yield our personal preferences to the preferences of the broader brotherhood, I would never have been able to make that change. So it is very, very important. 

Another principle you avoid the concept of the preachers kid mindset where you have to do this because I am the pastor and you have to model for the rest of the church. I never ask my children to do anything simply because I am a pastor. I ask my children to do things simply because it is the right thing to do. Whether you are the preacher or not the preacher, this is the way you do things. So we have to do that.

Another — Was that kind?  I ask that question often of my children’s behavior.  You cannot have rules about everything and children come up with things you never thought they could think of. Ask the question—Was that kind? Were you kind? And rivet that in their minds. We need to have that principle throughout life.

John Dresher in his books about marriage and parenting, emphasizes the fact if you want to love your children the best way to love your children is to love their mother.  Now I have the advantage of having the nicest woman in the whole wide world. That is my advantage and I let my children know that. I tell my sons often, if you can find a wife half as good as your mother, you will be very, very blessed. I tell my girls, if you can grow up half as good as your mother, you will be very, very blessed. You love your wife. Love the children’s mother. It is the very best thing you can do for your children, according to John Dresher. I have tried to apply that.

Bill Gothard in his seminars, says, Whoever laughs with his children will have their heart. So is the home a fun place to be? Is it a place where we are having happy memories? So laugh with your children. Show them that life is not just work, work, work. But there is lots of joy, lots of laughter, lots of fun in the home.

Three questions you ought to ask.  I don’t remember which preacher I heard this from, but he said if you want to know if you have the heart of your children, ask these three questions to your children.   Do you know that I love you?  Do you know that I love your mother? Do you want to be what I am when you are my age? So when I heard that, I thought that is a good question. We had two married children at that time so I asked them.  We went out to the coffee shop and I said to them and their spouses –Do you know I love you?  Absolutely.  Do you know I love your mother?  Absolutely. Do you want to be what I am?   They said, No. 

The next night we had teen encounter.  I asked the teenagers, Do you know I love you?  Yes.  Do you know I love your mother?  Yes.  Do you want to be what I am?  They said, No.   I had two little girls at home and they said,  Yes, yes, and yes.  Thank the Lord for innocence.

We talked about it.  So, okay what don’t you want to be? I don’t want to be overweight. I don’t want to be in debt. I don’t want a messy garage. So we talked about those. We discussed that. And I purpose to work on it. Right? I acknowledge that fact.  We have got to tell our children –Forgive the bad and build on the good.

I told my children one time, Isn’t it something that all these children are growing up in homes that have so much inconsistency and isn’t it nice that you don’t have a home that you have to grow up that way? About a half hour later they were done rolling on the floor laughing. But you talk about it.  Be open and honest with that. If you are not honest about your failures and what they don’t want to be like in you, you are going to fail. You are going to miss them.

I asked my father one time. I said, Dad, you have 8 children.  The oldest four have abandoned the way of life that you were trying to impart to your children.  The youngest four have walked in that way to some degree or another. Your youngest four made it.  The oldest four did not. I would like to know what is your perspective on that? Dad said – I loved all my children, but I liked my youngest four. We decided, we are going to like them.  You see, when they first have children, I think every parent falls into this trap, where we are going to be perfect.  You know, everybody is watching.  Set up straight. As you go through this, we were just so particular and so overzealous of how these would turn out. And the last four, we just relaxed. We just liked them. We like being around them. So like your children.  That is one of the things I want to communicate to my children.  I like you. Not just love you.

Get rid of anger.  My wife and I were memorizing James. It said: “Let every man be slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God.” As I was meditating on that, memorizing that, you know God said, You are not going to win the city of York for Jesus, or your children, if you are angry. And I could tell you all kinds of shameful things.  But anger, you have got to get rid of it! We have got to confess it as sin. God said, get rid of all anger, all wrath, all malice.  Don’t let it once be named among you. There is no justification for anger.  We have got to rid our lives of anger if we want our children to walk in our ways.

Proverbs 22:6 – I started off with that. I will end with that. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Now as I have been observing over the years, I acknowledge that most of the young families who have children who are not yet teenagers believe this verse means – that if I train them, that is how they are going to turn out. Those who are a little older who have teenagers or maybe one or two adults may come to the conclusion that this verse really means—if you train them, generally speaking that is how they are going to turn out. You might have one or two that choose another path but they turn out pretty well. But then when you talk to the older man whose children are raised and all left the home, they say, well what this really means is that it is still going to be with them even if they have chosen a different path, they will never depart from it. It is still in their head. It is in their brains and they are going to have it.

I look at this a different way. This different way is: Be careful because your children are catching more than what you say. How you train them- they will not depart from that. I had a man at a church say, that verse just cannot mean that because, you know, my wife wore a covering, a cape dress and all my children have abandoned the way of life, the way of the Bible.  Yet that brother was never under authority. Never under authority. He sold advertising signs and one of the signs said, (He had a helium balloon attached to one of his signs.) Our helium balloons defy all zoning ordinances.  I contend that his children did not depart from what they were taught.

My siblings were talking one day. (I told you the oldest four departed from what they were trained and the youngest four sort of kept it to varying degrees.) It can’t mean that.  We all had the same parents, the same training, so how can it be that some of us departed? We know that mom embraced every person.  Dad too.  Every person was a Christian.  If you would say the name of Christ, you are a Christian. We grew up. We went to a Baptist church. We visited everybody. If they had communion, we took communion. I want you to hear me very, very clearly. Mennonites are not the only ones going to heaven. Do you understand that? I don’t believe they are the only ones going to heaven. But we have to be very, very careful because we were taught that everybody is equal. It is all okay. We can’t depart from that. My mother was in health foods before it was fashionable. I was raised without white flour, white sugar. She read all those books you men have to suffer through.  I am sorry for that, those recipes, but our family reunions have lots of white flour, lots of white sugar. So my siblings say, how come we didn’t depart? We all knew when dad came home from work we would look in his lunch pail and see what tasty cakes he had that day. So the message was – when you were with mom, this is how you eat. When you are away from mom, you can eat anyway you want, and we have not departed from that.

When I think about anger, your children and how fast they grow…how soon they are gone. Be careful! Because the way you teach your children, your actions, your attitudes, what happens at home when your preacher is not watching, the brothers at church are not watching, your children are catching that.

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

God bless.