I was recently honored to spend an hour talking with Rob Rienow. Rob married Amy in 1994 and they have been blessed with six children. His most important ministry is loving his wife and leading his children to know God.
ANDREW: What was the driving motivation to found Visionary Fam- ily Ministries?
ROB: Well, it started with a chapter of brokenness and repentance in my own life. In Summer 2004, I was the youth pastor at a church. Amy and I had been married for ten years and had four children. Basically, my heart and my passion were at work. I was discipling everybody else’s kids. I was nurturing wholeness in everybody else’s marriage. But I was not in any way the spiritual leader of my family. I was not praying and teaching the Bible to my children. I was praying and teaching the Bible to other people’s children, but not mine.
Again, God needed to get me to a place of repentance. As in the book of Malachi, God really turned my heart to ministry to my children and a few years later turned my heart to minister to my wife–engaging my whole family in the Great Commission. Up until then, I really just saw the Great Commission as what we do with our neighbors and what we do in regard to missions. I never connected the family with the Great Commission at all.
ANDREW: How did you get VFM off the ground?
ROB: I didn’t have anything to do with it. The Lord changed my heart toward my family, and I started to share what God was teaching me at my church. I taught an eight-week Sunday morning class called Visionary Parenting to people in my church, and God used the Scriptures to impact the people who were there. They would say, “You need to do this again so we can invite our friends.” So, we did it again. Then people said, “You need to record this so we can share it with other people.” Then other churches started calling and asked if we could do Visionary Parenting at their church or if we could put it on a DVD so they could use it. Then publishers like AWANA and Randall House were calling saying, “Can we turn Visionary Parenting into a book?
We’d like to publish it.” From 2005 until 2010, I was doing one conference every month and doing a lot of writing. … The demand on the speaking ministry began to grow and grow until finally, it was really putting too much of a strain on my family to have a full-time pastorate and doing Visionary Family Ministries. So we made the decision in Fall 2010 to take a leap of faith to do VFM full-time and raise support as missionaries. We do two traveling conferences every month, and an international focus every year. This fall we’re doing conferences in Scotland and Russia. It has really been a blessed adventure.
ANDREW: It seems many parents are beginning to see their responsibility as the primary spiritual guides of their children, but they’re hesitant to begin. What do you think is holding them back?
ROB: Well, I think it’s largely a heart and spiritual issue. It was for me. I didn’t need another list of things I was supposed to do as a dad. I don’t think Christian parents are unaware that they should be nurturing, raising up, and reading the Bible with their children. If you asked them, “What’s most important–sports or your kid’s faith? School or your kid’s faith?” they would all say, “My kid’s faith is most important.” So all of that “head knowledge” is there and the “to-do list” is there. But the thing that I lacked was that my heart was not convicted.
My heart was not engaged in living out my faith at home, and I really didn’t believe that the most important Great Commission calling that I had in the world was that I be faithful to disciple my children. That just didn’t bleed out of me. What bled out of me was my secondary ministry which was my ministry at church and neighborhood. So the place to begin is with repentance and asking God to change our hearts. I don’t believe in a parent training weekend saying, “These are the five things you need to do with your children.” People likely have all that, and they won’t need that list if God turns their hearts and ministry toward their children.
ANDREW: While many families with older children struggle with this change in perspective, it seems like many parents with young children are jumping on it right away.
ROB: The younger families, when they see and hear the vision, are much quicker to adapt and start
to embrace it. The older the family is, the slower the change. A lot of that is because the culture of family takes shape over time. Most Christian families are doing what our parents did, and that is delegating all the training of their children to other people. So, most Christian families are accustomed to an intense calendar where they are dropping their kids off at activities where the “experts” are training them. The shifting from that model when you have a fourteen-or fifteen-year-old to the more home-based model, especially in the spiritual area, is very difficult to do. There’s so much momentum already built up in that family toward a particular life-style, mentality, and philosophy. Whereas you come to the family with a one-year-old and three-year-old and cast a vision for multi-generational faithfulness, discipleship, heart connection, and family service, and they’re like “Yes!” They start to make those changes.
ANDREW: As I was reading in your books Visionary Parenting and Visionary Marriage, you really believe that the key place for this beginning is with family worship.
ROB: Absolutely. The few minutes of family prayer and family Scripture are key. It comes from Deuteronomy 6, where it is the first, practical thing that God gives them to do in response to the commandment–to talk about these things at home. … God’s given us two supernatural activities to do in our home that transform our hearts, renew our minds, and bless our relation- ships: prayer and Scripture. They are to be done alone, as husband and wife, and as a family. If the devil can keep them away from prayer and from Scripture, then he can keep them away from the supernatural activities that will transform their hearts, renew their minds and bless their relationships.
ANDREW: One of the things we’ve found is that when we encourage family worship, we hear back, “Well, we just can’t do this in a way that will relate to everyone at their own age level.”
ROB: Well, that comes from the fact that they’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated in the worldly educational method–which is the age-and-stage method. In this mindset, it’s crazy that you’d even put a first grader and a sixth grader in the same room together and expect them to possibly learn or understand. What I tell parents is that family worship is not Bible class–it’s not primarily about the transfer of information. … Family worship is simply everyone in the family coming into the presence of God and worshiping Him.
In our family time we sing, we read the Bible, and we pray. My two-year-old doesn’t get a whole lot out of the Bible reading, my four-year-old gets some out, and my fourteen-year-old gets a lot. But it’s not Bible class. We read it. We believe the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. We believe that our Scripture reading is accomplishing things in the life of our two-year-old. Not intellectual things, perhaps, but the Holy Spirit is at work. And our family worship and prayer time is simply to say, “Family, we want to follow God. We want to humble our hearts together to confess our sins to God and to bring our requests to Him.”
That’s where our two-year-old is learning to pray. He gets down on his knees next to dad and says, “Daddy teach; daddy teach!” And he wants me to do a “repeat- after-me” prayer so he can learn what to say. So you have to break out of the age-and-stage education model, and you have to break out of the idea that family worship is Bible class.
ANDREW: You mentioned earlier that you didn’t connect the Great Commission to your family. One the articles I read of yours in Mission Frontiers magazine really helped me with this perspective. Many feel that the family ministry approach is very inward- focused and the church loses sight of the Great Com- mission. But you seem to have an idea that we reach out to everybody with our family and through our family, especially if we look beyond today. What would you say to encourage people about families obeying the Great Commission?
ROB: Well, what you’re putting your finger on is the missing link as to why family ministry is rejected in the church. The church says, “We’re a Great Commission church.” If your doctrine does not include the family as a Great Commission institution, then you skip family ministry because you think it sounds inward. But in fact what you get (and I tried to lay it out in that article as best I could doctrinally) is that the call to love your neighbor doesn’t begin with your “neighbor.” If you’re a married person, it begins with your spouse. If you’re a parent or grandparent, it begins with your children. The call to make disciples of all nations doesn’t begin with global missions. It begins with the souls of the people who are entrusted to your care. And this is the clear teaching of the New Testament.
This is what Peter does in Acts 2 when he says, “the gospel is for you, your children, and all who are far off.” We are to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth which people preach all the time regarding spheres of influence. You start with the people right around you. Well, who’s right around you? Your husband, your wife, your parents, your siblings, your children, and your grandchildren. This was the criteria for leaders in the early church. What would possibly qualify them to shepherd people? Well, you had to show first that you were shepherding your own children. In fact, if your children were not following God, then you didn’t have time to shepherd other people because you have souls that have been entrusted to your care. So it’s not a rejecting of ministry and the world to focus on your family. You begin your ministry in the world with the souls God has put around you. Then, of course, which you talked about earlier, that connects with multigenerational vision and multigenerational mission.
In our family’s ministry, we’ve got this dream for 286,000 people to come to Christ. How is that going to happen? Well, if God is so good and our six children follow God and if God would bless them with six children each on average, then in seven generations there are 286,000 Christians all over the world sharing the gospel, leading people to Christ, meeting the needs of the poor. In the church, we’ve separated getting married, having babies, adopting babies, raising children for the glory of God–we’ve separated that from the advance of the gospel to the ends of the earth. We have to reconnect those things doctrinally before we will see the dramatic acceleration of the Gospel that we all desire.
[Editor's Note: This interview originally appeared in The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 3.1 (2012).]
Rob Rienow (D.Min., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is the co-founder of a ministry called Visionary Parenting along with his wife Amy. He served as youth and family pastor at Wheaton Bible Church for eighteen years before becoming part of a church planting team in the Chicago area. He is the author of God’s Grand Vision for the Home (AWANA) and Visionary Parenting (Randall House).
Andrew Hedges (M.Div., Columbia International University) is a family pastor in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of three volumes in the Creative Bible Lessons series (Zondervan). Andrew blogs at FaithAwakening.com.