Many Christian parents hope and pray that their children will grow in faith but don’t often know what practical steps they can take to help this. Over the next few articles we’re going to discuss some little steps we can all take to deliberately disciple the children in our families and churches by training them to pray, read the Bible and be active in the life of the church. We’ve considered before (here, here, and here) how to grow a kids ministry at church. Our focus here is on the, perhaps even more vital, role parents and families play in growing godly kids.
This first article focuses on ourselves and the importance of how we model aspects of the Christian life to those who see us up-close and personal. These first tips were inspired by conversations with the late Clifford Warne.
- ‘Please don’t introduce me to Jesus if you are not growing in your relationship too.’
As we introduce children to God through his Son, we need to be people who continue to grow in our own relationship with him. After all, how can we hope children will begin a life-long friendship with Jesus, if ours has stagnated? If your own faith in God has become stale, perhaps it’s time to refresh your relationship with him through speaking to him, listening to him and being shaped by him in active ways. How great it is when our kids see us acknowledging our unworthiness, firmly trusting in Jesus for mercy and growing in our relationship with him. This is a great first step towards modelling a growing Christian life for your children.
- ‘Please don’t tell me Jesus loves me if you don’t love me too.’
We all love our children, but many of us still find it difficult to consistently demonstrate unconditional love for them. If the love our children experience from us suffers from lack of time, busyness, tiredness, moodiness and many other external factors, there is a danger that this can shape the way they understand God’s love for them.
- ‘Please don’t tell me to love others if you don’t love others too.’
Sadly, there are many families in which long term disagreements and breakdowns have simply become part of the relationship landscape. Over time children see this and come to accept, ‘we don’t see that side of the family anymore because of what happened several years ago’. Children also notice whom we do and don’t have around for meals and they pick up on the kinds of people we choose to spend time with. Of course, not all relationships can be mended, but how can we tell our children to be loving or even ‘be kind to others at school’ if we are not modeling this in the home?
- ‘Please don’t tell me to trust Jesus if you don’t trust him too.’
Our children see the way we respond to life and its trials and joys. So, what did your children see when the news of the redundancy came through? When the phone rang with news about your elderly parent? When the credit card bill arrived? How can we teach our children to trust Jesus with their biggest need of salvation from sin and death if we don’t trust him with our smaller needs?
- ‘Please don’t tell me church is important if it is not important to you.’
Our children learn a lot about God when we bring them to church – but they also learn just as much on the weeks we choose not to come. Being realistic, there will always be some weeks through the year when you are not able to attend, but what lessons are your children learning on those days?
The principle behind all these ideas is that our actions have an enormous power to support, or undo, our words. If we are seeking to raise godly children, how much better it will be for them not only to hear gospel truths from us, but also to see us living by those truths ourselves. We ought to model a commitment to God, a trust in God and the real contentment that a relationship with God provides.
This isn’t to say that if Christian parents do these things their children will necessarily be believers. The Biblical data on this is clear. At times, even godly parents can have ungodly children (e.g. Eli and his sons in 1 Sam 2-4) and sometimes ungodly parents can have godly children (e.g. Saul and his son Jonathan in 1 Sam 20). Truly, each generation is responsible before God for responding to the good news of the gospel (Ezek 18).
Nevertheless, it is clear in the Scriptures that one of the great privileges and responsibilities parents have is to bring their children up in the instruction of the Lord (Prov 1:8; Eph 6:4). Yes, the salvation of children will always be God’s gracious gift. But God’s normal way is to give this gift through the discipling work of their Christian parents, not in spite of their failure to disciple.
Nevertheless, what a comfort it is to know that even when we fail as parents, which all of us do from time to time, all is not lost. For while we are weak, God is powerful. And so whether in ‘successes’ or our ‘failures’, in all things we are praying that the Holy Spirit will be at work within our children doing the spiritual work which we cannot do.
In the next article, we’ll discuss teaching children to pray.