Don Everts: The Spiritually Vibrant Home
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What’s a spiritually vibrant home look like? The research might surprise you. Author Don Everts offers practical steps for a spiritually rich, robust family.
Don Everts: The Spiritually Vibrant Home
Don: You don't have to pray well; [Laughter] you just have to pray. You don't even have to be the one who does it; just initiate it, like, “Hey, we're about to go on vacation,”—and we're all getting in the minivan—and just say, “Hey, I think someone should pray before we go.” You don't even have to do it; just initiate it. Or with the Bible—you don't have to know a lot—you just need to be in the Bible with each other. That activity—it’s just like being in the game: hitting the ball back at all—the research tells us is the game changer.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
Alright; what would you say, all these years, being in ministry—writing marriage and family books and our last book on parenting—what would you say most parents in the church would say is the most important thing they can do to raise kids that love Jesus?
Ann: Most would say get them in a good church, good youth program, or a good Christian school. I think most people would say that and think that.
Dave: Well, I'm asking what you would say.
Dave: No, I asked you what others would say. [Laughter] Actually, I'm just setting up—Don Everts is with us today—and he wrote a book about this.
Dave: I mean, the title is The Spiritually Vibrant Home. Don, you’re a pastor; you’re a dad; you're a husband. You've researched this—but we can't wait to hear your expertise—because it doesn't matter what we think or what other Christian parents think; it matters what you think. [Laughter] So welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Don: Great to be with both of you; thanks for having me.
Dave: As you sit over there, and you listen to that question—
Dave: —and we're going to get into the research because, as I went through this book, there's charts everywhere; I'm a visual guy—so I kept telling Ann: “Hey, look at this chart,” “Look at that chart,”—so everything you're going to share with us is really based on research.
But as you think about that same question—okay, so you're a pastor and you've got three kids—
Don: Three kids.
Dave: —and so you've, not only just researched this and written about it, you've got to live this.
Don: That's right.
Dave: So I'm going to ask you the same question: “What do you think most parents”—you probably know—"how do they answer that question?” I'm guessing most Christian parents are like: “I want my kids to love Jesus,” “I want them to grow into adults—
Don: Yes; yes.
Dave: —"who love Jesus”; so they're thinking, “Here's how I do it…” What's the common answer?
Don: I think the default for a lot of people, in the circles that I've been in, is similar to: “What do I do if I want my kid to have good teeth?”—[Laughter]—"I take him to the professionals; I take him to the dentist. That's my job; I bring them to someone who can help them.”
I think it's the same; I think the default answer in a lot of churches is: “I'm going above and beyond if I get my kids to church, and that's more than a lot of people do. I feel heroic to do it and exhausted after doing it on some Sundays,”—and that's it; right?—and so: “I deliver them to the experts: the youth minister; or the pastor himself; or you know, someone who's going to disciple them,” and that sort of thing. I think that's the temptation that people have.
Ann: Those are good goals to have; but: “Are they the best?” and “Is that what grows our kids, spiritually?”
Don: Exactly. And that's what—you know, looking both at research and at what the Scriptures say about kind of God's plan—or what really works.
Dave: Well, let's start with, and you start in the book, with households.
Dave: You know, why that is the center/why that's important, even to Jesus/even scripturally.
Dave: So help us; you know, start there.
Don: Yes; it turns out that households are mentioned, by name in the Bible, over 2100 times.
- I mean, we're used to thinking of, like, “God relates with me as an individual,”—and that's like beautiful, and that's true—and there are passages that remind us of that.
- And we know that God relates with His people: so like the nation in the Old Testament; the church in the New Testament, like God relates with us as a congregation.
It's like those are the categories we have.
But when you put on your household lenses, and you start flipping through the Bible, you realize, “Oh, there's this other category, kind of in between those two, that is everywhere in the Bible.” You know, you can just read right over it; you're not used to thinking about it.
It turns out that the household—God sees it as the real/like redemptive laboratory—like the discipleship laboratory that God promotes throughout the Old and New Testament is the household. So that's why our research centered on that and why the research kind of made us return back to the Bible: “What was God's idea with the household?” And what parents, and kids, and grandparents, and extended households: “How are we designed to be people of faith?—and to pass that on from one generation to another?” The household is pretty central to that.
Dave: How would you answer that question when you study the Bible? And of course, this is what we do at FamilyLife:—
Ann: Yes; what's some Scripture too?
Dave: —it's all about the household; it's all about the family.
As you try to answer that question: “Okay, what was God's intent/mission for the family?”—how would you answer that?
Don: I mean, I feel like Deuteronomy 6 is huge. You're there on the plains of Moab. Moses is like reiterating: “Here's what God says…” I mean, that's where we get the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” and “Here's everything He says…”; right? It's like the handing over of the words of God.
And right at that moment is when the words from God are: “Now, everything I've just given you, I want you to talk about it when you lie down at night, when you're walking on the way. Talk about it with your children; write it on the doorposts; put it on the gate of your home.” It was meant to be talked about and lived out within the context of their household.
And that's from the very beginning; right? And then you can kind of trace from there. You think of Joshua going into the promised land: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,”—what does that mean and why is that there? And you start realizing all these folks, who are like being used by God and doing things for God in the Scriptures, it usually says “and their household.” [Laughter] But we can't read right over that.
Ann: It’s so funny—I've never thought of that so much—like those verses, all of us know those verses.
Don: That’s right.
Ann: We hear it, but we don't think of: “That's attached to our homes, our households, our people.”
Don: Yes; I think there's something particular about our culture in the West, because there's such an emphasis on the individual. It is true that God relates with us as individuals, but we tend to kind of keep going back to that. I think it makes us miss what's on most pages of the Bible, which is: “You operate in households, and that's how God intends it to be.” So I would say it starts there; right?
And then you see it all throughout the Old Testament/all throughout the New Testament, where you have households—that God sees households—households rise and fall together. I mean, that's a huge emphasis in the wisdom literature in the Old Testament—not just: “Live a certain way because it's good for you,”—it's: “Live a certain way because it's good for your household,” and “If you do other things, it's not just that you're guilty, it's bad for your household.” That's emphasized in the wisdom literature.
So it's all throughout there—this/that we live in households; we’re intended to live in households—and they matter to God.
Dave: So that very thought—for where we started—a lot of Christian parents think the church is central;—
Don: That's right.
Dave: —you know: “Get them to the church,” “Get them in a youth group,”—
Don: Yes, yes.
Dave: —which, obviously, it is.
Don: That's right!
Dave: But you're saying: “Really, scripturally, probably more important than a church”—I mean, I'm/I know they're both way up there—
Don: That’s right; that’s right.
Dave: —“but the household/your family is critical.”
Don: That's right—ultimately, it is this partnership—and it takes both. But there is a way, I think, that it's tempting for us to kind of abrogate our responsibility: “I’ll have the church take care of it.” And some of that is because—it's not that people just don't want to do it, or are lazy, or whatever—in my experience, a lot of it is because people are parenting and grandparenting how they were parented and grandparented.
I mean, when we started really wrestling with this at the church I was in at the time/where I was pastoring at the time, there was a lot of insecurity in people, and even a lot of shame, as people began to talk about—I remember this dad saying to me—
Because one of the findings—you know, this is not shocking—is that, if you pray as a household, that helps your faith grow—right?—so it's not rocket science.
—but this one dad saying to me—he pulled me aside after class and he said: “I don't know how to pray out loud,” and “I've never prayed out loud.” He just kind of said that with this heaviness; because you know how intense parents are about wanting to raise their kids/you know, want their kids turn out well. And he's realizing: “It depends on me,”—like—“I don't know how to do this.” It's not necessarily that he's like, “Oh, let someone else teach my kid how to pray”; it was someone who, in his transparency, was saying, “I don't know how to do it.”
Ann: Do you think that's typical of parents?—that feel like: “I don't know what to do.”
Don: In my church it was. [Laughter]
Ann: I think in ours too.
Dave: Yes, every church.
Ann: I've talked to a lot of parents—they just don't know what to do—and so it's not that they're just saying, “Let the church do it”; they're saying, “I'm not as equipped.”
Don: That's right.
And same with the Bible: the same dad/he said to me, “The only Bible reading I've done is my children’s storybook Bible that I read to my kids. That's the only time I spend in the Bible.” For someone like that, the good news of the research is like: “You don't have to be really good at this,”—that's the really good news; right?
So I just like shared with that guy/I said, “Brother, here's the thing/here's the thing: you don't have to pray well; [Laughter] you just have to pray.” And I said, “And frankly, the research shows us you don't even have to be the one who does it; just initiate it. Just say, ‘Hey, we're about to go on vacation,’—we're all getting in the minivan—and just say, ‘Hey, I think someone should pray before we go.’ You don't even have to do it; just like initiate it.”
Or with the Bible—you don't have to know a lot; you don't have to like preach sermons—you just need to be in the Bible with each other. That activity—it’s just like being in the game: hitting the ball back at all—the research tells us is the game changer, and makes the difference; and we start to grow.
I found, when I started to invite people to think about their household and the spiritual health of their household, it was really scary for people to do that. It brought up all sorts of feels/all sorts of feels. Early on, in this one class that we did in this, this one mom, just with tears—
You know, I was learning how to talk about this: so I was like, “On a scale of 0 to 10, in these three different categories, how do you score?”
And it brought her to tears—and she said, “My household is not spiritually vibrant at all; we're spiritually dormant,”—and she just started crying.
So I ditched having people score their households—[Laughter]—it was like: “That was a lesson for me,”—but it's so tender [of an issue]. And again, grandparents are involved—single people—I mean, everyone is involved in the biblical view of households; and we can talk about that. But I think, especially for parents, who have kids in the home, it is so tender [of an issue].
Research confirms what Scripture tells us, which is: ”Just start hitting the ball back,” “Just get in the game a little bit.” It's starting to do some of these activities—and there are three that were highlighted in the research that came out—but it's like destroying the great: “Don't try to be great; just get in the game.” And even that is a real game changer. So that's not heavy; that's actually empowering and inspiring.
Dave: Yes, that is. I mean, I know; because I'm a parent: we feel/we want our kids to grow up to be men and women of faith, and we feel that we're not doing a good job. I think every parent feels that way.
Dave: And so when you say there's just three things you got to do; I had no idea until I read it. “What's a messy prayer?—loud tables?—and open doors?”
I think parents are leaning in right now, saying, “Okay, I'm that mom; I'm in tears. We're dormant; we're not vibrant. You're telling me that we can be vibrant, and it's not a big leap. Okay, so what do I do?”
Ann: And Dave, let me add this, too: I think, when we have/our kids are growing up and they're teenagers, I remember feeling like: “They don't want me to talk about it. They're like, ‘Mom, you're so…’”
Don: They don't want to talk about anything. [Laughter]
Ann: Maybe that's it! But I do remember—because as they were little, I was talking about a lot—and then there came this phase, where they're all in different places, spiritually. I felt like I'm bugging them: “Mom, could you stop talking about it? We already know.” And so then, as parents, we have a tendency, like, “Am I doing it wrong?
Dave: You pull back too.
Ann: “Should I pull back?” That's what I was going to say: I pulled back.
Dave: Yes; so where do we start? Because it was pretty interesting research to find out that—“Man, it all came down to that,”—I know it's not just these three things, but it sort of ended there.
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Don Everts on FamilyLife Today. We'll hear what three activities correspond to a vibrant faith in the home in just a minute, including one that might shock you.
But first, obviously, you hear us talk often about marriages and how the foundation affects everything else in our lives. One thing we think we would all agree on is that great marriages don't just happen; they're built with intentionality. We’re either drifting in marriage or intentionally moving toward each other and, together, toward God.
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Alright; now, back to Don Everts with what three activities have been found to correspond with a more vibrant faith in the home.
Don: The research showed us that there are three activities that tend to correspond with more vibrant faith in the home. And none of these are—well, one of them is shocking—[Laughter]—two of them aren't shocking—one of them is shocking.
So they are to apply spiritual disciplines—so that's what I call “messy prayers”—it's like you have some kind of Bible life and some kind of prayer life together.
The second one is engaging in spiritual conversations, so I call that “loud tables.” Research tells us, if a family is all together and they’re talking, usually they're eating food—that's what the research says—so just talking about spiritual things; that's the second one.
Those aren't hugely surprising. And then the third one did surprise us; and that is, what we call “open doors” or extending hospitality. The more hospitable a household is, the more vibrant the faith of those who are in the home. And we can talk about why that—
Ann: That’s so interesting.
Don: —that shocked us; we didn't expect to find that. Because you tend to think: “Well, if I close my family off, [I’ll] protect them from the world outside.”
It turns out: having an insular household is actually a risk factor for their faith; but having open doors—and it doesn't even matter who the people are/doesn't matter if they're Christians or not—having people in and out of your household, actually, increases spiritual vibrancy. We can get into that.
But those are the three: messy prayers, loud tables, and open doors. That those three—just activities and being active in those areas—tends to correspond with more spiritual vibrancy.
Dave: Okay, so let's talk “messy prayers.”
Don: Yes; let’s do it.
Dave: You know, I know it's not just praying—
Don: That’s right.
Dave: —although it sounds like it—but it's spiritual discipline. What's that look like in the home?
Ann: I like that you named it “messy prayers.”
Dave: Yes, that's/that you can remember; and they're messy!
Don: They are messy; because everyone has this—like: “I need to be perfect, as a parent, and do all this; and so I won’t…”—and I'm thinking of that dad, you know, who's like, “I don’t know how to pray.”
Ann: “I can't pray like the pastor,” “I can't like Pastor Don.”
So messy prayers—like you just have to interact with God, together, in some way—and so some of that is prayer. Some of that is like: “Hey, before the meal, you know, we have one of us pray.” I like liturgies, so that's—like I'm nerdy like that—and when I started getting the research, it was really convicting me; because we're/our household was strong in some of these and not as strong in some of these. I, as a parent, was strong in—
Dave: What do you mean? You wrote the book; you were strong in all of them.
Don: I know, but I did call it messy; didn't I? [Laughter]
Dave: You’re right; you’re right.
Don: You know, my youngest, when I would tuck him in—he's now 15; he doesn't let me tuck him anymore—but when I would tuck him in, and I would say prayers with him, and I would say, “Amen”; and he would say/for a while, he started to say, “That's it?”
Dave: “What?!”—that’s what he said?
Don: Yes; and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You don't have any/anything else to pray? Mom prays way longer than you do.” [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; you said that in the book—that he commented: “Mom’s a better pray-er than you,”—my kids would totally say the same thing.
Don: Yes; but it's just being in the game. So when I was in the research, it was like: “Okay, applying spiritual disciplines: I want to be in prayer more with my household.”
One of the things I did: I ran into this book called Every Moment Holy by Douglas McKelvey, which is this/it's just like new liturgies. So there's a liturgy for your morning coffee.
Don: There's like a liturgy—
Dave: We've seen it.
Don: —for changing diapers.
Dave: Yes; we had him on. It's pretty incredible.
Ann: It’s amazing.
Don: Oh yes, yes, yes.
Dave: I'm the guy that, when I first picked it up, I'm like, “Seriously?—
Dave: —"a liturgy for folding the laundry?”
Ann: —or putting your dog down.
Don: Totally. [Laughter]
Dave: Then I started to read them, and I was blown away; it's really beautiful. So you do that?
Don: So I—yes—well, even working on this research, I was convicted, like, “I need to be in prayer more”; and so I started/like all the time, I had that book with me. So much so that my family now teases me. [Laughter] I mean, there's—I mean, in my first week of doing this—like we were: “Oh, there's a liturgy for that.” So now, it doesn't matter what it is—you know, we're watching March Madness [deepened voice]—“Is there a liturgy for that, Dad?” Yes, I mean, they’re teasing me about it. [Laughter]
But here's the thing: I'm in the game—and I'm leaning in, like I want a little more than I did last year—to be, as a household, interacting with God. Some of it is prayer, and there's so many different things people can try.
Then some of it's being in the Bible; right? And so that's everything from: “Sure, you could lead a family devotion”; but it could also be: “Hey, this is my favorite verse,”—to you know, I've known families, who they'll just, in hearing the research, they just started writing Scripture verses on their walls. And just kind of put—I mean, it says in there: “Put it on the gates,”—like just putting up; or I started taking/with a dry erase marker, you can write on windows and mirrors. I started putting Scripture verses up on our front window and on the front door/that went on the front door as we came in and out.
Is that silly?—I don't care! It was helping my household relate with God together. And that's one of the things the research says.
Dave: Yes; one of the things that I loved about your book is—under “Messy Prayers”—you have: “Arrange the kindling,” “Add another log,” “Stoke the coals”; and then you give all these ideas,—
Ann: This was good.
Dave: —which you just said/shared several of them.
I mean, under “Arrange the kindling,”—you know, sort of getting the fire going a little bit—“Spend more time together playing, eating, and simply having fun.” You're like, “Whoa, whoa, wait; I thought I had to pray all the time.”
Don: There you go.
Dave: You're like, “No, no, just start with being together and have some fun.” Prayers come out of that; right?
Don: They do. The research showed us that these spiritually vibrant households—so they're doing these three activities together—are doing everything together:
- They're doing chores together.
- They're singing together.
- They’re—I mean, not to paint like a perfect picture—they’re arguing together.
- They're/they do homework together.
- They go to the movies; they eat.
You want a household that has an atmosphere of you do stuff together, even fun stuff.
If someone is sitting there, like, “Yes, we don't even talk to each other. We're all in our own rooms on our own devices. How can I go from that to leading a family devotion? That is not happening.”
And that's why I use the image of: “Well, don't go from no embers to a bonfire.” You don’t have to do that. Start interacting more together; that's actually a catalyst. Eat more; go out to eat together—those are catalysts for altering the atmosphere of your household—where you are doing more things together. Even that is creating an environment that is more conducive to these things.
Ann: Even when our kids were little, I remember thinking, “I have no time with Jesus now.” I used to have this great little sit-down devotional.
Don: —quiet time; yes. [Laughter]
Ann: —quiet time—and then I had babies. I thought, “I can't even do this anymore,”—like my kids were up early—I had three boys, so they're really rambunctious; and our household is crazy.
What I realized is that: “I just have to bring”—it’s really Deuteronomy 6—"into our family. I'm just going to pray all the time. If I'm thinking it, and I'm desperate,—
Dave: And she does; [Laughter] she does; it’s actually beautiful.
Ann: —it’s because I was so desperate and broken, and I'm seeing the sinfulness in my life.
Dave: She’s praying for a parking spot. She's praying—I mean, it's just like—
Ann: I'd be like going to school in the morning—I'm saying, “Jesus, it's cloudy again,” like, “Lord…”—and just talking to Him, sharing what I'm feeling/thinking. I'd have the boys—and even as little elementary/like kindergarteners—“Guys, is there anything you need prayer for? Do you want to pray for that?” “…pray for each other?”
But I also realize, if I wasn't thinking about that, it's because it wasn't on my heart and mind—which then was convicting, like, “I haven't thought about anything, spiritually, all day,”—but that was a little bit of a clue of: “I need to get in the Word,” or “…listen to the Word.” We have so many great tools now—
Ann: —that we can just put our audio on/our Audible® on and listen to the Word.
Dave: Well, here's the thing: we've only talked about one of the three.
Dave: I think you've given us some great direction on how to do that. I would say to a listener: “Just pray—
Don: That's it.
Dave: —“or initiate. Here's what you could do:—
Don: That's right.
Dave: “Have your son pray. Have your—you don't even have to—
Don: That's right.
Dave: —"but if you just initiate a messy prayer.”
I used to think—because when the kids were little, you'd be praying; and kids are crawling on your head; they're throwing things into the fire pit—
Ann: —“They’re not listening.”
Dave: —you're like: “This doesn't work. It's supposed to be this nice, tight little family.” No; that's messy,—
Don: Yes, that's right.
Dave: —and that’s good.
Don: And it's good; and it's right; and it's—and again, if people/if it's too much like: “We're going to fold our hands and close our eyes…”—don't do that!
I encouraged this one dad at my church, who wanted to pray more; but like, “How do I initiate it?” I said, “Pray blessings,”—like with/just extend your hand—they're walking out the door/you're dropping off at school: “May you…”/just say, “May you…”—and then say things you want for them. And that's prayer.
And then/that's the thing—like for me, as a dad—like that empowered me. And it was convicting; because it's like: “What do I want for you?”
Dave: Yes; yes.
Don: It made me think, “What is it that I speak it out? How do I speak it out?” Vocalizing those things force me to even pray bigger for my kids. And then I involve them. So anyone who's at our house—who would, like, would be open to it, when they're leaving—it's like, “Hey, kids, come on; we're going to pray blessing over them.
Ann: Oh, that’s sweet.
Don: “Okay, everyone,”—like—“May you/what do you guys want for them?” “What do you guys want?”—so to kind of—like: “That's prayer,” “That's like relating with God together.” Doesn't have to be fancy; doesn't have to be long.
Dave: “Just do it.”
Don: “Just do it.”
Ann: “Just start simply.”
Don: “Just start.”
Dave: But here's the thing: If you're a parent, you're like, “What are the other two?” Well, you’ve got to listen tomorrow.
Don: That's right.
Dave: We're going to jump into that tomorrow.
Don: Come on back.
Shelby: You've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Don Everts on FamilyLife Today. His book is called The Spiritually Vibrant Home: The Power of Messy Prayers, Loud Tables, and Open Doors. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Dave and Ann are back with Don Everts tomorrow to show how sharing your faith with your children can be fairly effortless. Don't miss it; sounds hard to believe.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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