I have mentioned on this blog a number of times that I believe primary responsibility for the spiritual health of our children lies not with the church, but with parents. I have written about here, here and here, and recently recorded a podcast about it here too. I am not convinced the answer to raising godly young people in the church is necessarily more youth work, better Sunday School and extra programmes. I am convinced the answer lies in better equipping parents to disciple their children.
But I think sometimes we hear things like ‘equip parents to disciple their children’ and immediately break out into a sweat. What does that involve? What does that look like? Am I even cut out to do it? I remember hearing William Lane Craig say that he doesn’t understand why anyone even has kids without a deep knowledge of apologetics. I mean, I get his point but that makes the basic discipleship of our children feel out of the reach of the average believer. Isn’t it better to outsource these things to the experts?
Naturally, I do not think that the right approach. I think the Bible puts emphasis on parents for a reason. I also think good discipleship doesn’t need to be complex or complicated. Far be it from me to disagree with Dr Craig, but I don’t think you need a PhD in apologetics before you should even countenance raising children. It is possible to be an ordinary, not very impressive, Christian person and disciple your children well. Here are some things (in no particular order) that help us do that.
Pray for your children
Here is something any parent can do. They can pray for their children. Not just praying for them, but praying specifically that they would come to know the Lord Jesus and they would grow up in maturity in him. You can pray for kids and ask God to make them believers (after all, they definitely won’t become believers if God is not at work!)
Talk to your children about the Lord
If Jesus is important to you, it follows you will talk about him at least a bit at home. Speaking about the Lord Jesus to your children does several things at once. It shows them you love Jesus. It shows them you think he is important enough to think about in your day. It imparts some knowledge about the Lord Jesus to them. It may help them ask, and think about, the right questions about Jesus and his gospel. All of these things will have a helpful impact.
Ask your children questions that expect them to relate to Jesus
Just as you might ask anyone in your church, ask your children what they are currently reading in their Bible. Ask your children what they have been praying about recently. Ask your children something they learnt about Jesus that they found interesting or they didn’t know before. These sorts of questions communicate that you expect your children, as a matter of course, to be reading the Bible, praying and learning stuff about the Lord. These questions aren’t framed in such a way that you are coming after your kids for not doing what is demanded of them, they are genuine questions asked in the expectation that these things are normal.
Let your children see you doing ministry and engaging with Jesus
I had the privilege of being raised in a Christian home. Unsurprisingly, like most kids from Christian homes, that meant I have always been to church and saw my family going too. Unlike a lot of kids from Christians families, I also remember seeing my mum and dad reading the Bible and praying at home. Not in artificial ways, or enforced family worship times, or anything like that. Just like, when I was walking into their room for some reason or other and that’s what they happened to be doing at the time. Similarly, evangelism was always a big thing in our home. Not only did I see my parents going out to do that ministry, I was often pulled along with them. These things were seen to be important and I grew up seeing people doing them and knew these things, again not in a forced way, were the norm for Christian people. Seeing a consistent Christian life, lived up close, not only on Sunday in church, but at home too has a big impact.
Point your children to scripture
Inevitably, when issues do arise, does wisdom seem to come straight off the top of mum or dad’s head or is it rooted in scripture? When scripture is looked into, is it more than just proof-texty, out of context stuff that happens to support whatever prohibition is being wheeled out today or is there a more reasoned, thoughtful reason why they’re saying this? Is scripture approached with an understanding – as Jesus and his disciples often noted – that some of the things it demands of us are hard or is it simply there to lay down the law? Do our children see us looking for the answers to whatever may face us through the Word and prayer? Minimally, we communicate to our children that this is what we perceive to be important.
Once again, whenever I talk about this, I am not in any way suggesting if you do these things your kids will certainly become believers. I’m not saying there is an A, B, C formula to follow. The Bible simply doesn’t allow us to say that nor does good theology suggest anything other than the wind blows where it wills. None of these things are guarantees of godly, believing children.
But what I do think is that discipling our children – though these things may be hard to do consistently – is not rocket science. We will of course make mistakes. We don’t assume that if we do these things our kids will necessarily believe. But if Proverbs 22:6 has anything of any value to say to us at all, notwithstanding the general truism nature of proverbs, it is surely that if we can set our children up with good formative disciplines now they are much more likely to press on with them when they are old. Instilling the importance of these things in their youth, and pointing them to Jesus early on and expecting them to take real responsibility as disciples of Christ when they are young, puts children in a good position to press on with Christ as they get older.