I have recently written and spoken about the importance of parental discipleship. I wrote about it here and did a podcast here. You can also follow the links in the first article to read a bunch of stuff I have said about it in the past too. If you can’t be bothered to read all that, my main point – over and over again, said in various ways – is that the most important feature of faith in children is the having godly parents.
By some coincidence, my copy of Evangelicals Now arrived yesterday. In it, Ed Drew – Director of Faith in Kids – has written a short article on why parents matter. One point he makes is this:
While faith transmission is a spiritual work done by the Lord, we would expect to find that in God’s ordered world there are some wise and godly methods that often bear fruit. A book that adds to the considerable research in this area is Handing Down The Faith by Christian Smith and Amy Adamczyk (OUP, 2021). It is interesting to read the research collected from 235 interviews (in the USA) and hold it up against the Bible’s instructions and our church’s current practices. The single most significant cause of faith, humanly speaking, in teenagers and young adults is (drum roll please) the religious lives of their parents. Parents matter! More than church, more than Sunday School, more than their peer group, more than the cultural air they breathe, parents are where it is at.
I would encourage you – if you have access to a copy – to go and read the whole article. It is short, concise and clear. It points out some simple things that matter most so far as parental responsibility goes (as far as the research on faith in kids is concerned). But the conclusion of the article is clear: ‘to effectively hand on the faith to our children, we need churches to support parents in talking confidently about Jesus in the everyday situations of our children’s lives.’
As I have been arguing for quite some time, I suspect this means we need a real shift in focus in our churches. I am not convinced we should be pouring our time into children’s evangelism and a glut of youth programmes. That is not to say these things are wrong or bad to do, just that the evidence suggests these ought not to be our priority.
Instead, our churches should focus evangelism on reaching adults. It should focus it’s discipleship on parents. So that when parents are saved, those same parents are equipped to live consistently in front of their children and talk confidently about Jesus with their children. We ought to equip the parents to effectively evangelise their children, to effectively disciple their children and do so in the ordinary matters of life in between any programmes and services you might tap into at church.
This is particularly good news for small churches like mine too. We don’t need to fashion swathes of new programmes in order to reach the youth. We don’t need to have youth ministries and Sunday Schools that rival the very best modern Evangelicalism has to offer. What we need is solid teaching that will equip parents to speak to their children about Jesus. It means what provision we do make for children – be it youth groups, Sunday School or whatever else – should exist to help foster conversations with parents. It means the best way we can help disciple the children is to equip the parents with the ability to talk about the Lord, to point their own children to Jesus and to help them apply the scriptures to their everyday lives.
Which seems to me – though this may be another post for another day – the best children’s discipleship tool we have is the teaching programme of the church for the adults.