Inspiring Parents to Family Discipleship: An Interview with Rob Rienow

I was recently honored to spend an hour talking with Rob Rienow. Rob married Amy in 1994 and they have been blessed with 6 children. His most important ministry is loving his wife and leading his children to know God and love Him. He attended Wheaton College, then completed an MA in theology at Wheaton College Graduate School, an MDiv from Trinity International Divinity School, and a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Leadership from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He served as Youth and Family Pastor at Wheaton Bible Church for 18 years, and is now a part of a church planting team in the Chicago area.

He is the author of the books God’s Grand Vision for the Home (Awana), Visionary Parenting (Randall House), and When They Turn Away: Drawing Your Adult Child Back to Christ (Kregel). He and Amy also wrote Visionary Marriage (Randall House) to help couples capture a compelling, biblical vision for their life together. The Rienow family lives in Wheaton, IL, where they serve through Visionary Family Ministries.

Rob’s life dramatically changed in 2004. It is in reflection of his life from this transitional moment forward that I interviewed Rob.

Visionary Family Ministries

ANDREW: What was the driving motivation to found Visionary Family Ministries (VFM)?

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 10 years and had 4 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 8-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, “Hey, 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 put Visionary Parenting into a book; we’d like to publish it.”

From 2005-2010, I was doing one conference every month and doing a lot of writing. Visionary Parenting turned into Visionary Marriage. Visionary Marriage turned into When They Turn Away, a book for parents of prodigals. 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 2 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.

Inspiring Parents

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, “Hey what’s most important – sports or your kid’s faith? School or your kid’s faith?” Well, 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 5 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 14- or 15-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 lifestyle, mentality, and philosophy. Whereas you come to the family with a 1-year-old and 3-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 the key. It comes from the Deuteronomy 6 text, 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. You know, it’s not just a good idea. The other thing is that this shouldn’t come as a surprise to believers. I’ll talk about it at a conference, and I’ll say, “How many have ever heard this challenge before to pray and read your Bible?” Of course they say, “Rob, we’ve heard this a lot.” “Well, how many times have you heard it? 10 times, 100 times, a 1000 times?” And they say, “Yeah, probably like a 1000 times someone has told us we need to pray and read our Bibles.” If it’s not weekly, it’s a monthly challenge to believers to be in prayer and be in Scripture.

And if you ask a believer, “Hey, how are you doing with your prayer life and your Scripture life?” most will say what? They’ll say “I’m struggling,” right? This is a core spiritual battle in the Christian life. God’s given us these 2 supernatural activities to do in our home that transform our hearts, renew our minds, and bless our relationships – 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.

You know in the Flinstones family how they powered their vehicles with their feet? I think most Christian families today are like Flinstones families in the sense that they power everything that they’re doing in their family with human effort. What they bring to the table are good intentions and their willpower. They’re going to try harder next time to do a better job with whatever the conflict was that brought them to this place to begin with. So, family worship is the key starting point.

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 put a 1st grader and a 6th 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.

I ask them, “Well, can a 1st grader and an 80-year-old be in church together? Can they worship God together? Could a 1st grader and a grandpa share in a meaningful hour in church? And people say, “Yeah.” Well, that’s family worship. 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 2-year-old doesn’t get a whole lot out of the Bible reading, my 4-year-old gets some out, and my 14-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 2-year-old. Not intellectual things, perhaps, but I believe 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 2-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 Commission. 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. So, 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 6 children follow God and if God would bless them with 6 children each on average, then in 7 generations (200 years) there are 286,000 Christians all over the world sharing the gospel, leading people to Christ, meeting the needs of the poor. So in the Church, we’ve really 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.

**To learn more about how we can begin to reconnect the family and mission in the Church, check out the forthcoming post where I ask Rob Rienow’s thoughts on family ministry and the local church. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Repost/Reprint

    If you would like to repost an entry from my blog on your blog or website, please include a link to the original post. If you would like to reprint an entry, please request reprint permission. Thanks!
  • Contact Info

    Message me on
    Facebook or Twitter

  • Archives

%d bloggers like this: