November 2010 - Vol. 44

Fully Engaged Young Adults
By Bob Tedesco

During the1960s and 1970s – a time marked by sudden and powerful social upheaval – a worldwide movement of Christian communities began working to strengthen faith and family life. Bob Tedesco, past president of the North American Region of The Sword of the Spirit, and a founding leader of the People of God community in Coraopolis and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, addresses this need and challenge facing covenant communities today. Building transgenerational communities takes decades of hard work and cooperation among parents, community leaders, and youth workers. Bob offers hope, wisdom, and insight for moving forward as transgenerational communities. 
 This article hopes to make a contribution to the raising up of the next generation of community members in the Sword of the Spirit. It should be helpful for parents, but it can also be useful for singles, grandparents, and “empty-nesters.” If you are a member of the Sword of the Spirit, I will assume that you are fully aware of and convinced that we are called to a trans-generational community life. Scripture often presents the Lord’s blessings as going out “to your descendents...even to a thousand generations!” Our hope is not that our overall approach will lead to having our children join us to fill the seats at a community gathering. We are hoping for fully engaged, productive, responsible and active adult members. Our Father wants us to take heaven by storm, not just slip a toe inside the door.  His kingdom on earth should reflect that energetic, fully committed approach to life in the body of Christ. 

Steps Ahead
 I believe it was St. Benedict who pointed out that the shepherd needs to be several steps ahead of his flock if he expects them to follow. In the area of leading our children into God’s kingdom, we ourselves –  parents, grandparents, single people – must be fully engaged in living the call to Christian community life.

We need to be steps ahead in each area of our description: a community of disciples on mission. Our description is a dynamic, complimentary set. It is a coherent vision when every area is working well. Our Christian lives and families work best when all three elements are present in good measure. All three will need attention for the complete training and formation of our children. Missing parts yield a handicapped vision and sometimes those “holes” can be seriously damaging or even fatal.

 My main goal here is to present some general advice for your consideration. Much of the advice is centered on having a plan. If the application of this advice results in a plan you can implement, then it could possibly change lives.

Some qualifiers
 I want to make a few qualifications before I launch into giving some advice here. I realize that being a “planner person” isn’t natural to everyone. Some of us are not high energy people. Some of our children may not want to cooperate with our plans for them. And not all of our extended families will understand our plan or may not want to support us in it. And I know that some of us have difficulty following through on implementing a plan. Nonetheless, I urge those of us who can press ahead to do so with  perseverance. Scripture calls us to run the race to the finish. 

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us (Hebrews12:1).

 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith 
(2 Timothy 4:7).

 I believe that this is one race we need to run with perseverance – to the finish.

Heart Check

Inner Dispositions
 Children are notorious for being able to spot a “phony.” Since we are the ones that bring disciplines, training and order into their lives, they will be most tempted to test our credibility, our resolve and whether or not we are genuine in our leadership. Each major area of our call will be elements of training but also they will be elements of challenge. 

 How are we living out our call to love and unity in community? Are we at peace with one another?  Are we content and peaceful with this chosen way of life? Do our inner attitudes and postures reflect assent and approval? Do we grumble and complain in front of the children? 

 Do we respect our elders? Do we benefit from discipleship? Do we openly talk about it positively to our ch8ildren? Can a teenage boy make sense out of his father getting helpful advice from a pastoral leader or from other brothers when he is trying to make an important decision? Have we helped that same boy to see that doing so is a strength and not a weakness? 

 Men and women really do benefit from living as disciples who seek wisdom, counsel, and advice.

On Mission
 Do we engage the mission the Lord has given us as a community? Do we support the mission? Do we understand it? Do we openly honor those among us who are actively engaged and committed to our mission? Our children need to see and appreciate that kind of heroic service. Are we developing in them a true “eye” for heroism that is different from what often gets portrayed in the media with sports leaders or movie stars?

Plans, Teaching, Strategy: Tools of a Life Well-Lived

The carpenter is committed to working with wood (For this metaphor “wood” will mean the Sword of the Spirit and its way of life). He is not always looking for other materials to replace the wood or using cardboard where wood is needed. He is committed, pleased and satisfied to work with wood. 

The carpenter is trained in working with wood. (We say we are trained from above and serve those below us). We are trained in this way of life. There are many other good things, but this “wood” is our chosen material. Wood is not perfect. Our way of life is not perfect and we do not present it as such. That would be misguided fantasy and easily debunked. Wood, by the way, has a grain to it: It is strong when loaded in one direction and weak when loaded in another.  That’s what enables most of those karate experts to break a piece of wood in two...rotate it 90o on those same supports and your hand is in the emergency room! Wood is not perfect and neither are we. 

The carpenter is experienced in working with wood. As we gain experience, we more easily recognize our mistakes. We also try to learn from others, especially those who can admit their mistakes and show us how they learned to grow. 

The carpenter has blueprints. He knows what he is building and how to build it. He knows the sequence that yields success. He is not building the attic before the foundation is in place. 

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it.  Let each man take care how he builds upon it  (1Corinthians 3:10).
Some general advice
Have a plan
Strategic parenting springs out of strategic living. For those who are husbands and fathers, our approach to pastoring is often preceded by our personal approach to life.  Having a plan can have some beneficial results: 
  1. It means we know what we’re building
  2. That knowing influences and tests life’s decisions
  3. It can motivate
  4. It can clarify
  5. Knowing what we’re building helps us answer questions and challenges
  6. It helps us to stay focused and to avoid competing visions
  7. It can help to evaluate progress
  8. It can give a real direction to family life
  9. It gives a focus to our husband/wife meetings
  10. Knowing what we’re building reminds us that we are raising children for God.
I’ve often thought how we might approach life if Jesus walked up to us and said, “I’ve just planted this tree.  I want you to protect it from pests and parasites. I want you to care for it and help it to grow. I’ll be back.” We would say, “Well, all of the other trees are infested with carpenter ants! How could mine (His) not be? 

He has given us more than trees!

Plan to Spend Money
In my work as an engineer, I always knew when the boss and the company were serious about a project: it got a budget, a healthy budget.

In the North American region of the Sword of the Spirit I knew we were serious about developing our community youth work when we got a budget.  Later, I had the same realization when the community building team got a budget. When I am serious about a vacation, I set aside time and money and then I plan it. I doubt that the Lord will ever wonder about whether or not I took my vacations seriously...he knows how much I spent; he knows how many pictures I took. I really don’t expect him to say, “Bob, you should have had more fun, spent more time and money.” 

On the other hand, I believe that the Lord  is quite serious about how we care for our community children, our family’s children, and even our grandchildren. Even if we can’t afford much of a vacation, we should expect that the Christian formation of our children and grandchildren will cost us something and we should plan for and save for, including our Summer Camps, YES retreats, UCO conferences, etc. Worthwhile results are worthy of a plan. Plans have components: oversight, accountability, schedules, etc. Budgets are one of those components. 

I would recommend that we accumulate an extensive apologetic for each of the areas that we want our children to eventually understand: community, discipleship, mission, covenant, tithing, etc. Our collection of materials for an area could include scriptural, denominational, natural, and testimonial components, and we will need to adjust our tools to suit the age group of the children. 

I am a person who prefers to keep all my notes in a three-ring notebook binder. I know others prefer to use manila folders. Some even use a set of 8 ½ x11 boxes built into shelves. As we collect articles, talk outlines, and testimonials, we ourselves are more prepared and instructed in key areas of our call. 

Generally speaking, digestible snippets are more useful for instructing children, especially younger children. Complicated constructs are not as helpful. It’s helpful to have one scripture that makes a point or one testimony that highlights an area (e.g. discipleship, covenant, tithing).
You can also use one page summary sheets that present a community element in a simple way. 

Use our courses for material
 Our community courses are intended to cover the key elements for understanding our way of life, and the previous example on covenant is but one of many areas that can be covered by a summary sheet. The entire emotions course could be summarized on one page that would help bring some understanding of our approach to our children. Pastoral care, tithing, mission, discipleship and charismatic spirituality are some others.

Draw heavily on personal examples
Try to use testimonies, experiences and stories that explain and support our way of life elements.  At Lord’s Day discussions, we should draw out testimonies that exemplify pastoral care, mission, etc. As part of our plan to present our way of life to our children, we should invite brothers and sisters to Lord’s Day who have a story to tell. 

In our community, we had a family that wanted to move into a cluster but was having trouble finding a buyer for their house. Four different people lent them $10,000 each that was repaid later when their house sold. When children hear that story, it helps them to see more clearly that we are unusually committed to building something together. 

If your children go on a mission trip or have an experience with the Lord, encourage them to share it. Their testimony teaches others and more deeply establishes what the Lord has done for them. 

Strategically use Lord’s Day for mission
On some regular basis, perhaps one time per month, we can invite non-community family and friends and draw out witnesses of the Lord’s work.  This approach can include other members’ children who are older or further along in their walk with the Lord. This adds a mission component to our celebration that can be helpful in growing our children’s faith and understanding. 

Build strong home/family life
Meals, holidays, vacations, traditions, and celebrations can all support building our family life when done in a good Christ-centered way. We should build our family life as inclusive, not nuclear-isolated or walled-in. It should be evangelistic, Christ-centered, Kingdom-centered, and it should have spiritual components (prayer, fasting) and not just natural components: recreation, eating, etc. It should not be self-centered or nuclear family dominated or isolated.  Biblical family life seems much more shared. 

When I was a boy, it was much more common to have some families sharing life and homes with other “aunts” or “uncles.” Today’s vision is much more isolated and seems to also have a “shelf-life.” College is far more than education: it’s also for getting children out of the house by the age of eighteen. This is not working so well for a lot of young adults, especially young women. 

In building family life, we should use the husband/wife meeting to continually update the plan, to set short-term objectives and to evaluate progress.

One last piece of advice in building family life: We should be prepared to “firmly insist” and hold the line on time together. Meals, vacations, camping, church, conferences and community life will all be challenged by the school activities, the prevailing sports culture and other “urgent” priorities. We are building and preparing for eternity; these other pursuits and activities are often transient and eventually of low importance.  We must help our children to see and sort the important from the transient and the entertaining approach of modern life.

Basic life orientations
We understand our spiritual growth and life orientation to be a deepening caring for others. We slowly grow from being self-centered as a child to being other-centered as responsible adult citizens of our country and of the eternal kingdom of God. The “What would Jesus do?” question puts a pause in place that allows us to consider others before acting.  We should regularly remind our children of the maturing process that they are in. When we say, “Take your feet off Mrs. Smith’s furniture!” we are teaching that child to put Mrs. Smith ahead of themselves.  “Don’t make so much noise (it’s rude)”; “Look him in the eye when you talk.” “Answer Mr. Smith’s question, Johnny.” “Don’t text while speaking to someone.” “Share your toys. It’s what God wants.” These are all instructions that say, “You are being prepared and trained for life as an adult child of God.” They need to know this part of the plan, its purpose and some of the steps. 

Underlying personality traits: monitor, adjust, nurture
Having raised ten children, I have learned the obvious first hand: every child is different. Every personality has traits that are helpful and supportive of healthy adult life; some are less helpful; and it’s not always easy to tell the difference. For example, stubbornness in a child may express itself as faithfulness. We need a certain parental discernment of spirits to know which to adjust and which to nurture.  A child who has temper tantrums will need to be taught emotional control and at a later age, the importance of having a high “emotional IQ” and how it can affect the ability to get and keep a job. 

A critical spirit if allowed to grow can result in rebellion and mockery in its long-term expression. We foster and nurture a positive, encouraging, contented and joyful spirit. This is a difficult task since some discontent with the status quo is a motivator for growth, renewal and reform. Too much discontent becomes self-destructive and lays a foundation for fear-based living. 

Additionally, we foster humility which lays a groundwork for discipleship, instruction and correction.  We continually reinforce the truth that our child’s gifts and talents are for the body, for the kingdom and not just for the self. This truth provides light and wisdom for life’s key decisions: state of life, career, courtship, etc.

Finally, we should expect supernatural help and that spiritual gifts such as family discernment of spirits have a parental and family expression and are not just for wider life or prayer meeting settings. 

Main decisions that tend to be deal breakers
The whole area of decision-making and its life-shaping results is a big area to cover but it can be isolated to those decisions that connect or disconnect our child from the body of Christ. Something seemingly benign such as figure skating or basketball can be very disconnecting if the whole family sort of dives into it and it becomes centered in the activity. When high school is over and the activity has apparently run its course, it will have been very entertaining but possibly very disconnecting for the child’s kingdom relationships. So, activities, (entertainment) are worth having a concern for the approach.

On the higher side, some main decisions that can suddenly redirect and de-rail a life are: 1) independent access to cars; 2) worldly approach to dating/courtship/choice of spouse; 3) college choices; 4) career choices; and 5) unfettered access to money (or too much spending). Decisions should be approached and respected for their potential power and tendency to connect or disconnect our child from God’s people, God’s plan.

Actively honor committed people 
Those who faithfully serve and show up for our events and outreaches should be honored and respected in our conversations and mealtime discussions. Even the simplest service is a part of our overall mission and is a high value to the Lord. These people aren’t quarterbacks or rock stars, but they are our heroes, our models and good examples for our children, good examples of our covenant values of faithfulness, service and love. We should openly honor and respect the Servants of the Word and any other singles who use their single life to serve the kingdom of God. Their life is heroic and it is far more heroic than someone who spends his life developing his golf swing. 

Identify “engagers” and “disengagers”
Parents should take a real concern (husband/wife meeting) for people, events, activities, practices, groups, attitudes, etc. in light of their tendency to engage or disconnect our children from the body of Christ and decisions need to be made to limit or encourage those things. For example, YES retreats engage and make connections and therefore should be supported and encouraged. Video games tend to be pure entertainment and disengaging at just about every human level and therefore should be closely watched and limited. Other people, events and activities can seem very good but might be seen to just have a disconnecting effect when they have run their course.

Parents’ fears can have a disengaging effect on their children. We can hover over them and protect them from every person or event that could have a detrimental effect on them.  No event, group or activity is perfect and without risks (e.g. mission trips), but over protection will leave them effectively disconnected when they leave the nest.

Support connections at every level

... holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
- Colossians 2:19
At the local level, support Summer Camp, campouts, retreats, conferences, youth groups, UCO, cluster relationships (if applicable).

At the regional level, support YES retreats, the Winter Conference, Kairos activities and outreaches, mission trips, GAP years, and the online “portal” website that is in development.

At the international level, we also have GAP years, mission trips and a network of youthful relationships that develop as paths cross at different events.

Building community vision
We should not present our community vision as a perfect, unrealistic fantasy.  That will disappoint our children and doesn’t prepare them for the reality of life in community. We should help them to understand the main elements and history of our community and of the Sword of the Spirit. 

We should help them to see that receiving help and support is not a sign of weakness for a community or for an individual. Help them to see that it is a sign of wisdom and strength.

Finally, we should help them to see that a main element of our community life is evangelism; to bring the gospel of Christ to those who can receive it.

Pick your battles
A popular and often recommended plan for parenting is “pick your battles”. While there is a certain wisdom in that phrase, it can be used against us when we miss that small deviations can produce an approach that can get a life far off the mark. No parent wants to be constantly correcting or challenging their child, especially a 15 or 16 year-old. Some areas may seem small to us but may become a major concern. One example is modesty of dress. Apparently small deviations can lead to outrageous outfits as the hormones kick in e.g. a bikini on a four-year-old might seem cute but becomes a source of temptation on a16 yr. old.

Consider a military conflict: a sniper can seem like a small issue compared to major troop movements. Yet snipers can kill people! They can keep a large number of troops from advancing to an advantageous position. They can block progress. In the life of a young person growth can be stalled by apparently small lapses in moral behavior (e.g. modesty of dress, modesty of speech, choice of friends).

So where does “pick your battles” apply for a parent? The problem and the answer lies in considering the “developmental commitments” that we have enshrined in the lives of our children.  If we have been getting after them about improving their social studies grade as a part of the plan to qualify for an academic scholarship, we may not want to start a discussion about a low blouse or short hem-line or an off-color remark. However, if we prioritize our developmental commitments to where faith, morals and the kingdom life are top priorities, we might let the social studies grade slide. The community retreat might become more important than the little league game.  Being fully engaged in community life might be more important than the “entertainment” activities (football, soccer, gymnastics, etc.) There are many school-age activities that can contribute to our development (football, spelling bee, archery contests, etc.), yet we will essentially drop them as we pursue adult life.

As we teach our children to invest in that which will have the longest term value and impact on their lives, we prepare them to be fully engaged as adults in the Kingdom of God. “Pick your battles”, then can’t be used against us, but it can challenge us to place the Lord’s values first and then to fight for them.

Closing Remarks

One thing...
We always need to be reminded that we are building followers of Christ. Our goal as parents should not be passive believers, or “one-toe-in” Christians, or “altar-call-addicts” (if answering one altar call is good, answering ten must be better!) Our hope is for disciples, followers of Christ. 

The rich young man was apparently doing very well (his parents developmental commitments had succeeded beyond their expectations: he was the Doctor McDreamy of his generation). In speaking with Jesus he heard that dreadful assessment, “You lack one thing...” One thing! That’s not bad. Look at everything that he had going for him! Today’s helicopter parents would want to swoop in and challenge the Teacher’s assessment. One thing: “Come follow me.” Money, career, plans, friends...what is the “one thing” that blocks each of our children from following the Lord?

Different paths
Our children are likely to take different paths and placements in the kingdom of God, and for every generation, the Lord’s plan is unique. Our role involves helping them to be open to the Lord and to see that they have every chance to succeed: relationships, events, opportunities and tools that serve them. Our work in our own community prepares a place for them. 

Get all the help you can: people, programs, events, activities...whatever it takes. 

Fully engaged
We should do everything we can to see that our children are fully engaged in the life, the programs, the relationships and the mission at the local and regional level. Children who learn to be kingdom focused at a young age will have an easier time at being fully engaged as an adult. Self-focused youth will need some sort of conversion to be fully engaged adults.

Every event and relationship strengthens the many connections that support our lives together. Every gathering, summer camp, Lord’s Day, campout, youth group meeting, YES retreat, Winter Conference, Summer Conference, mission trip, GAP year and UCO retreat helps. The new Kairos youth portal also supports the connections that support us. 

Our part
This presentation has been based on our part. More is needed: the grace of God, the call of God, the individual’s response and choices and the strength of the local body are all key elements in the overall plan.

Therefore, we need to pray constantly for: our children, for the children in our community, for their parents, and for all who help in the work to bring full life, full faith and full engagement of our children in the body of Christ!
Bob Tedesco is past President of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit, and a founder of the People of God community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. 

(c) copyright 2010  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom