Tuesday night was one of those cool, clear, September-in-Ohio evenings that followed a beautiful mid-70’s day. I took Calvin for a walk with my 12-year-old daughter Annie, and asked her some questions about what she knew about same-sex relationships and transgenderism. Now Annie is rather sheltered. She has been home-schooled the last two years and does not watch a lot of TV or spend hours a day on a device. She does not own a phone. But she was very aware of these topics and needed no explanations. We had a wonderful conversation about them. We talked about how God’s Word teaches specifically about those matters, what the Bible tells us is right and good (one man, one woman in marriage forever is the ideal, though many of us fall short of this ideal; about the reality of biological male and female, though some people don’t feel fully at home in our bodies). We talked about how our bodies are a gift to us from God, not a burden meant to be endured, no matter how we feel about them. We talked about how we are commanded to be kind and to practice Christian love towards all people, especially those who are different from us and who disagree with us. We talked about how difficult but important it is to be aligned with what the Bible teaches, even when everyone around us disagrees and thinks we are mean for believing certain things. We then went on to talk about school, how Calvin was doing a great job walking with us while off the leash, and how good the UDF ice cream was that we had eaten before our walk.
This is an example of discipleship, a word that we often use at NAPC because it is often commanded in the Bible. Typically we think about discipleship as a relationship between more mature and less mature Christians who know each other through church and spend time together regularly, holding one another accountable to overcome sin and deepen our faith. This is critical for our growth as Christians. But the most important discipleship relationships we have in the world are with our own children.
God’s Word repeatedly tells us how important it is to teach our children about Him, His commandments, and how to walk in His ways.
The most important commandment in the Old Testament is known as the “Shema” (the Hebrew word for “hear” which begins the commandment), found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Notice what immediately follows after:
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Teaching begins at home and is to be diligent, persistent and consistent.
In the book we are studying currently, Proverbs, over and over the father tells his son to listen to and obey and practice the things that he and his mother are handing down so that he may live wisely and well in the world.
Proverbs 1:8-9 8 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, 9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.
Proverbs 6:20-23 20 My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. 21 Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. 22 When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. 23 For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life . . .
This carries into the early churches, who model the Old Testament covenantal community as they disciple their children into the faith:
Ephesians 6:1-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Our children will be discipled, one way or another. It will either be godly parents in partnership with the local church doing the hard work of teaching and modeling how to trust Jesus and his Word, or it will be the powerful forces of entertainment media, social media, peers, and the dissemination of worldviews that are entirely at odds with Christianity. There is a deep and intense competition for the next generation.
A few months ago during so-called Pride Month, the San Francisco gay men’s choir published a song on social media channels called “We’ll Convert your Children:”
“You think that we’ll corrupt your kids,
if our agenda goes unchecked.
Funny, just this once, you’re correct.”
“We’ll convert your children.
Happens bit by bit.
Quietly and subtly.
And you will barely notice it…
We’ll convert your children.
We’ll make them tolerant and fair…
Your children will care about fairness and justice for others.
Your children will work to convert all their sisters and brothers.
Then soon we’re almost certain, your kids will start converting you.”
They later removed the song after significant public outcry and offered a combined “just kidding” and “well actually it’s our turn to do the converting” tweet. Apparently there were threats of violence against the choir, which is of course inexcusable. But the point is that there are indeed people and forces that are diligently, persistently and consistently teaching our children to walk away from the Christian faith, or to remake the faith in our image. We should not be naïve to these realities.
If we are passive, our kids will learn to believe that we are defined by our desires, rather than the One who reveals to us which desires are good and which are evil. They will learn that their identity should be understood in oppressor/oppressed categories, rather than universally in the image of God, and universally sinners in need of salvation. They will learn that pleasure and self-expression are the highest goods, rather than a virtuous, humble and obedient life in Christ.
If we are passive, our kids will learn to believe that we are defined by our desires, rather than the One who reveals to us which desires are good and which are evil.
It is entirely possible to disciple our children if we are diligent. I have seen the blessings of our discipling efforts over the last twenty years as our children have grown up. In writing this, I am by no means declaring that they have “arrived,” or that we have discipled excellently. We have sinned often and made countless mistakes along the way, with more to come. But Lia and I have on the whole seen tremendous blessings and fruit in the prioritizing of discipling our children.
The current climate is not easy, but deep discipleship has been accomplished in far more difficult circumstances. In his excellent book Live Not by Lies, Rod Dreher describes Vaclav and Kamila Benda, faithful Catholic Christians in Czechoslovakia who raised six children during the Soviet era. They were quite clear on the call to disciple their children in a very hostile culture that hated Christianity. Vaclav described communist totalitarianism as a culture that made “marriage and the family extremely problematic institutions.” Rather than buckle to that culture, they committed to raising strong, courageous Christian children. Their story is remarkable, and by God’s grace they were incredibly successful (more on how they did it in a future blog). My point is that we are not facing anything like the Bendas, and although we have serious challenges, we can overcome them.
What are the greatest barriers to effective discipleship of our children in our time? I believe that they are:
- Uncertainty over our own convictions about God’s Word and about how to faithfully disciple our children
- Fear that if we disagree with the prevailing cultural dogmas that Scripture clearly contradicts (on marriage, on sexuality, on identity formation, or on racial essentialism, for example), we will be canceled and outcasted
- Fear that our children will be different and will be canceled and outcasted
- Fear that our children will offer too much resistance to us
- Fear that we are not good role models for the faith so how can we presume to teach them?
- Laziness and a lack of desire to disciple our children in a diligent, persistent, and consistent way
- Confused priorities – knowing how important this enterprise is, but also wanting to help them become better athletes, better students, better dancers, etc., and allowing those priorities to overshadow discipleship
I believe this because I have struggled with some of these barriers myself. But that does excuse me or any of us from repenting and then making every attempt to faithfully raise our children in the instruction of the Lord. Here are some practical suggestions:
- Make your commitment to Christ a priority. You cannot disciple your children into what you do not have yourself. That means regular church attendance, regular Bible reading and prayer, serving, and building your life on the Rock.
- Don’t focus on the failures. In a sense, parenting (as we all know) is a lifelong exercise in “I would have done that differently if I could have a mulligan.” There are no mulligans, but we can change what we do in the present and future. If you have adult children and you feel like you blew it, keep striving to influence them towards faith in Jesus and church engagement. They may not be open to your counsel now, but the seeds you sow may take root and flourish later.
- Take time to listen to your children. Ask them how they are doing spiritually, find out what they are thinking. Even if they are closed right now, that doesn’t mean that they will be forever.
- Go to church with them and make Sunday morning a non-negotiable priority. If you haven’t done this, there will likely be a time of resistance from your children. Don’t let that slow you down.
- Read the Bible with them. Particularly if you have young children, this is a wonderful habit to ingrain into your family time.
- Pray for them and with them daily. We are invited to boldly approach the throne of the One who controls all things in all creation (Hebrews 4:16).
- Family worship is a tremendous means of forming your children. We have practiced this discipline every Sunday afternoon for years, and it is now a part of our routine. We gather, we pray, we confess sin, we share what we learned in church, we sing (awkward but less so than when we started), we share prayer requests and we pray for one another. It is not only worshipful but builds family unity.
- Grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins/etc. – you have a role to play that you should not underestimate. Use that influence to model and teach Jesus.
Finally, start somewhere! You don’t have to go from 0-100 mph in this endeavor. But you do have to start somewhere. I suggest the best place to start is on our knees, confessing our inadequacy and apathy, asking for the Spirit to fill us with the love of Jesus for our children, and giving us a zeal to pass down the most important thing we could ever give them, far more valuable than wealth or status or a successful academic or athletic career: the foundation of faith in Christ that will withstand all the world’s assaults against it.
If we don’t, they will.