Parents, Children, and Church

We cannot over emphasize the responsibility of parents.  We are called to be more faithful than we are able to do on our own.  That is why it is important to remember that we are part of a larger family, the church.  This raises the question, what is the relationship between church and parent as we nurture our children in faith?  The church can become the community where parents receive the support, guidance, and forgiveness that Christian parents require.  Also, the place where children are given the nurture, limits, and story that growth into faith requires.

The church ought to join the parent in prayer for the salvation of children.  When we pray for others to follow Christ no matter what the cost, we do so with the assumption that it is in God’s power to bring them to faith.  Prayer is a bold expression that there is One greater than yourself.  Praying for your children is an honest confession that you are unable to raise children on your own.  Such prayer recognizes that there is no greatness in our parenting skills, but only in God.

Raising children is not so much about parents or children as it is about God.  We are to be always about His business, parenting is no exception.  In fact, the problem with many modern evangelism strategies is that the focus leaves God and becomes business about people.  We are always to be witnesses.  Sometimes we are also parents.  Therefore, we want to include our children in the Gospel story.

While this task falls to the entire community of faith, it is the parent who has the greatest influence.  The natural moments at home provide a great opportunity.  We will transmit our convictions in the ways we talk with children, walk with them, put them to bed, and greet them in the morning.  The Christian family is all of us living, working, eating, drinking, teaching, learning, and growing together.  The relationship between church and parent must be one that encourages children in ways that include them in the story.

Children are not intended to be chosen but to be received.  Children are not achievements, but gifts.  We are not to control them for our own ends.  Nothing so disrupts our tidy, well planned futures.  Nothing so clearly mirrors our best and worst.  Nothing demands from us, humbles us, or gives to us as does the blessed burden of a child.

Some may see children as a worrisome bother to be avoided.  Some feel that children should be avoided because of the uncertainty of the future.  By saying yes to children, we do not demonstrate a faith in the future or faith in our abilities to provide for our children.  Rather, faith in God who holds the future.  Evangelism of our children is not a matter of parental effort.  It is God’s work in which we are privileged to share.

A Strategy for Parents

Our children are being seduced and discipled by the world.  We have learned this over and over by watching others who have preceded us struggle in the effort to encourage children in faith.  How can we respond to these same struggles without watering our witness down to principles to live by or a how to manual?  How do we train our children in a way that they will become Christian and in turn train their own children?  We may find ourselves wishing for a simple program that when completed, results in children that are Christian.  Yet, when honest, we realize there is no such program.  Obviously, we are not the ones who will save our children, but our role is not to be underestimated.

The meeting between parent and child goes on and on, it does not end.  It is imperative that parents take this responsibility seriously and do not take vacations from being a witness to their children.  This is a constant, tireless responsibility.  In this way, parents will communicate what matters most to them.  Do we respond to God or to the world?  Our children will be able to answer that question for us.  What children need are adults who are quite literally crazy for them.

There is nothing novel in this.  Christian parents do not win battles.  They prepare the ground and change the mood toward hope and belief, so that when Christ appears there will be others waiting for Him.  The Christian parent often works quietly.  He or she is committed to Christ’s victory and so is willing to do small things.  The Christian parent rarely does anything big.  Instead, they are always planting suspicion that there is something more than what society perceives to be final.

This is unnatural.  But the methods that recruit people for other kingdoms are not suitable to making the Kingdom of God strong.  A good dose of information is not enough.  Legislation, economy, and technology all fall short.  Unlike other kingdoms with which we are familiar, this one is not built on gadgetry, money, or force.

Parents need to faithfully include their children in the conversation of faith on a regular basis.  What children need to witness are parents who believe more than anything else that a new Kingdom exists.  A Kingdom that is not always visible to the naked eye.  A Kingdom where the sole ruler is the Lord God.  Our method is saturation.  It demands long-term patience.  It demands a belief that nothing is more important.  It demands that we live in a way that demonstrates Jesus as Lord.  It demands that we keep His words constantly before us.  It demands that we talk about them while at home and while away, while lying down for the night and when rising in the morning.  It demands that we teach these words to our children.

Wisdom and Witness

We want our children happy, healthy, and of benefit to others.  We want them to be moral and productive.  We want them to be good citizens.  Yet, none of these good things become our top priority.  The Christian parent desires that children make the decision to live under the authority of the Lord Jesus.  Since that is the case, we want to spend time shaping the behavior of our children, talking with them regularly about how to live.

What is it that parents do to shape the behavior of children?  Wisdom literature suggests that it is everything we do.  Nothing we do is so small that children will not notice.  Perhaps some reflection is in order.  Does our lifestyle allow children to recognize honesty and integrity as a priority?  Do we live in a way to encourage or discourage prejudices?  Do our children witness parents who make proper choices in the practical areas of their lives, like with money?

Are our children learning a lifestyle of convenience?  One where they pursue their own rights?  Or do they learn an ethic that is faithful to the God who has performed great and mighty works?  Have they been taught to listen to His instruction and to keep His commandments?  Are they equipped to pass this wisdom on to the next generation?

Have they realized that true wisdom comes from God?  Do they understand that God is over all – the simple and the complex, the routine and the miraculous, the secular and the religious?  The good news is that sometimes, partly because of us, partly in spite of us, our children respond and come to faith.

Evangelism at Home

Do not underestimate children.  They notice what parents give attention to; they may even ask questions about the things that we find important.  Do not think that they do not know the things we actually believe and the times that we just go through the motions.  As adults, it is our work to be serious enough about the particulars of our faith to pass them along.  Parents will pass along what is important to them.  If it is a priority to the parent, children will notice.  If the Gospel is a priority to us, the kids will catch on.  If we live as if faith is not relevant to “real life”, they will notice that as well.

Evangelism will flow naturally out of the context of everyday lives.  Parenting is a major part of that natural flow.  This is important because evangelism is not a set of formulas or memorized scenarios.  Witness is not something we are called to do nearly as much as it is who we are.  Our children will recognize who we are.  May they grow to recognize that above all else – we are followers of Christ.

Discipleship on the Front Row

Despite much attention given in the area of evangelism, there does not appear to be much emphasis placed on sharing faith with the children that live in our homes.  We are careful to provide good food, stylish clothes, and plentiful activities, but often overlook intentional seeking of ways to share what matters most.  Perhaps we have ideas of what we want our children to become, but have forgotten the real matter – “who does God want them to be?”

We cannot overemphasize the importance for parents to witness in bold ways.  Parents must demonstrate that in a world of real danger, where others appear to have the upper hand, we find our true identity as part of a community that follows God.  Parents need to demonstrate that God is indeed the one who shapes our lives.

The fact is that children will receive faith more readily if they witness their parents demonstrating it in every facet of their lifestyle.  Instructing children in the faith involves an ongoing conversation.  This is to go on whether at home or away from home.  Our worship of God is to shape us so that we will be witnesses that God has changed everything and we are obedient to His desires.  The call to parent is certainly a call to discipleship on the front row.

Adolescence is Gift

Children are a gift from God.  Few parents would disagree with these words.  Yet, not all parents are picturing teenagers when they hear this statement.  The fact is that adolescence is also a gift from God.  Adolescence is the God designed process to bring children into adulthood.

My personal experience with teens has varied from church camp to detention centers.  I have responded to teen questions about faith and teen questions about suicide.  But the most exciting experience is parenting a teenager.  Although no two teens or situations may be alike, it is safe to expect some changes in the house.  Honest parents will admit that changes have started even before one becomes an official teenager.  Many will experience changes in interests and schedule.  Changes may show up in clothes or in music.  Some changes may catch parents by surprise.  But do not turn your head, do not stop watching.  God has something in store for you.

Adolescence brings something essential to parents.  In the rather awkward package of teenager, God brings a challenge.  Faith is stretched.  Love is tested.  Parents are challenged to grow.  Adolescence is a gift to parents.

Adolescents do not tend to grow up quietly.  Teens do not grow up in their rooms in isolation.  Growth is not limited to those times she is safely under my supervision.  Teenage growth spills out all over.  Adolescents are models of growth.  They are illustrations of growth exaggerated.  They are reminders that growth is natural and expected.  They are God’s gifts to parents who are in danger of no further growth on their own.

A teenager in the house introduces new factors into the life of a family.  The growing up process demands response.  It requires participation.  The forms of discipline that once worked in childhood are no longer guaranteed to work.  As parents, we do not improve family life during these years by insisting that teenagers respond the way they once did as children.  Parents do not do themselves any favors by insisting on the way things were before.  Parents must develop new skills.  Parents must grow.

Parents do not have to be experts in psychology or sociology.  They do not have to read the latest trendy book on adolescent emotions.  They do not have to live out perfect lives.  The fact is that there are no techniques to master that will ensure a good parent.  The skills of parenting can not be packaged and purchased.

Christian parents are in a position to realize that the most significant growing up that anyone does is growing up in Christ.  This growing up must be done in a community of people who share a common task and rely on a common faith.

What Christian parents must do is to take seriously what they are already supposed to be doing – growing up in Christ.  Our major task is not to confront the problems of our teens and seek solutions.  Our major task continues to be what it has always been, to serve Christ in life.  We must grow up in Christ out in the open.  Out where our teens can observe, imitate, and make mistakes in the context of care and faith.

Parents are not at their best when they are saying the right things or even doing the right things.  Parents are at their best when they embrace children as a gift from God.  When we realize that this child is God’s child.  When we realize that God loved this child before I did.  When we realize that God will continue to love this child after I am gone.  In short, we are stewards.  Stewards of these gifts given us by God.