This past Sunday, we were visiting family for Christmas and attended church with them. During the children’s time at the front of the church, the pastor said something that made me think even more about a topic that I already think about quite often. During his prayer time, he thanked God for the parents’ of these children bringing them to church so that they could learn about Jesus. Now, I know that he did not mean this in a wrong way, because, yes, church is important to our Christian walk and parents’ should find a church to get plugged into as a family, however, this comment made me think about a few things and led to this blog post.
While his comment was an innocent one, I have heard comments like the following from actual parents… “Sundays are our day of rest, but we really want our kids to go to church.”, “We want our kids to grow up in church.”, “Church keeps them out of trouble, so I’m so glad they are going.”, “We take our kids to church because we want them to know God.”, etc.. These comments are not exclusive to parents that do not attend church, nor ones that do; these might be heard across congregations and communities all across the nation! At times, we treat church as a “cure all”, a “God school”, a “distraction from trouble”, a “club”, and more, but we must remember that our participation in a local church is to share in fellowship with other believers, worship together with other believers, encourage one another, pray for one another, study scripture together, and serve our communities together. Church, however, is not meant to train up our children in Christ, teach them scripture, teach them to pray, or be the main part of our childrens’ spiritual development. It is merely an addition to what we are teaching them at home – a local church is an accessory to their spiritual growth. (Edited to add: Of course there are many situations where a child or children might not ever come to know about Christ without the influence of the church – this post is not meant to remove the importance of our role in the church for children whose parents are not fellow believers. This dialogue is intended for parents that claim to be fellow believers in Christ. This should also push us to reach those parents so that they can have discipleship at home.) Now, before I continue, I feel like I must add that I am NOT a parenting expert, nor do I pretend to be. I am not perfect and I struggle at times. I just know that God has called me to be a parent that bases my parenting “techniques” on scripture. I fail. I fall. I stumble. The grace of Christ is all that carries me some days – parenting is NOT an easy task, and I anticipate more challenges as my children get older and face more obstacles in their individual lives.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6
This scripture is a common scripture to be used for parents, but I fear that not many of us take it to heart. It says to “train” or in some translations to “start” your children. This is a scripture for parents. Directed to parents. Not the church. If we, as parents, expect one hour a week to make a difference in our childrens’ spiritual development, then we are in for a surprise. What will win in the end? One hour a week? Or the remaining 167 hours in the week that they are at school, home, with friends, etc.? Who will they follow first? Parents that they look up to and are with the most? Or the Sunday School teacher that they see once a week? If we wish to establish a strong foundation in Christ for our children, WE must be the ones to establish that in them. We cannot pawn that very important task off onto the church – we must be willing to train them and start them in Christ, and that begins at home. Think about all of the ways that we train our children at home. We potty train them, train them to eat, train them to groom, to dress, to sleep, to drive, etc.. All of those things are important, but none are more important than our children knowing Christ.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” — which is the first commandment with a promise — “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6: 1-4
I would like for all of us to consider a few things:
1) Our children are born into a sinful world and are sinful by nature.
Well, that’s not fun to think about. My sweet, innocent child?!?! Sinful? No way! YES WAY. In Psalm 51:5, even King David acknowledges this when he says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Does this mean that chidren understand sin from the very beginning? No. Do they eventually learn to distinguish right and wrong? Yes.
2) Our children learn by example.
Children imitate what they see. You could tell your child to use a spoon to eat their oatmeal every day of their life, but if you never give them a spoon or show them how, they will continue to use their hand and imitate what they know – which is what they see. The same goes for our children and Christ. We could push them into Sunday School every Sunday for their life until age 18, but if we don’t read, enforce and live out scripture at home, then it is a fruitless effort. Our example should be one of humility and love, all based in Christ. In Matthew 18:6, Jesus says, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Whoa. Intense? Perhaps it seems to be, but if we realize the ramifications of not following Christ, we will see why Jesus was so adamant about this. He recognized that children will imitate. If they see a pattern of sin in those around them and if they are given permission to sin and go against Christ, they just might. I think about children and teenagers that are allowed to speak how they want, watch inappropriate movies, listen to music of their choice, date whom they choose, be alone with the opposite sex, etc. and I see a set up for failure instead of success. I’m not pointing fingers. I’m not here to condemn. I’m just provoking thoughts. Are we, as parents, setting our children up to follow Christ? Or are we setting them up to follow the world?
3) Our children are loved and treasured by God – Jesus came for them too!
In Mark 10:13-16, we see Jesus tending to the children: “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.” Wow. I love this! A child is in the perfect place to receive Christ and to learn about him. They are humble and they recognize Christ for who he is. The old song, “Jesus loves the little children” is not just an old song – it is based in scripture – because we see there that Jesus loves children. How can they know of his great love for them if we do not tell them? How can they grow in him if we do not encourage that growth? Salvation is not just for adults, it is for our children as they come to know who Christ is and what he has done for them. Children are not too young to talk to about Jesus! I don’t mean in just the “bible story” way, but real, honest talking to about Jesus – why he came, why we need him, why we should honor him with our lives, why we should seek his glory. I know that some might argue that a 2, 3, or 4 year old cannot possibly understand about sin, but how will they ever know if we do not tell them? It is a gradual, learning process and I do not believe that the dialogue about Christ can be started too early. When we address the issues of the heart, then obeying, being kind, etc., becomes more about honoring God than just doing good or listening to your parents. Why not be honest with our children and show them in scripture where it says to do everything without complaining or arguing(Philippians 2:14), obey your parents(Ephesians 6:1-3, Deuteronomy 5:16), and so on… They are not too young, dumb or incompetent to begin addressing sin for what it is, hiding God’s word in their hearts, and learning to love Jesus – yes, he has loved us first and we should teach that, but with that love came a call to live for him.
In essence, this is a cry for parents to teach scripture, live for Christ, and not shy away from talking to our children about spiritual matters. This job has been entrusted to us, and we should not take it lightly. We simply cannot sit back and hope that someone else does the job for us. Parents, we must fight for our children in this world, which is fighting hard to take hold of them. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” He(our enemy, the devil) WILL try to get to our children, which is why we must be on guard and supply our children with the tools that they need to stand firm in this sinful world. We are doing them a disservice if we are not providing them with these tools. No, it will not always be easy, but it will be worth it in the end to know that we have done everything within our power to bring our children to the feet of Jesus.
Parents, I beg of you – do not hesitate to teach your children the ways of our Lord. Teach them at home and be involved in a fellowship of believers at a church so that you can encourage one another in this journey. Remember that your children will only go as far as you are willing to lead them. Will you join me in this journey to raise up a generation that is unashamed of the gospel of Christ? Let’s train up our children from the beginning to follow Christ! The call of Christ is worth it. Your children will thank you.
I know that this has been a long post, but it is something that is dear to my heart. Please feel free to comment or share your own insight, experience or wisdom. I’m new to this parenting thing and have only been at it for 4 1/2 years…I learn every day and am not without fault. I covet your prayers as I seek to be a mother that honors God in everything that I do. In closing…
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:12-17