I’m going to come right out and say it. If I hadn’t been asked to write this article, I’m not sure I would have read it.
“Hypocrite!” You may cry, and perhaps you are right. In my, admittedly limited, experience of articles on Christian parenting (see the point above), they seem mainly to be written by people whose children spend their Saturday’s dancing barefoot across country meadows whilst reciting the three chapters of Scripture they have memorised that week, and never having a cross word for their siblings.
Back in the real world, family life contains an abundance of chaos, many cross words, and huge piles of dirty washing which are only rivalled in size by growing mounds of guilt and regret that we, as parents, are getting it all wrong because we haven’t given little Johnny enough exposure to Scripture, sibling harmony, or barefoot meadow dancing (delete as appropriate).
All of which is to say that I write this simply as fellow struggler trying to navigate the difficulties of parenthood amid the complexities of a modern post-Christian culture.
Here are four thoughts on the joy, responsibility, aim, and method of being a Christian Parent.
- The Parent’s Joy
This is an important place to begin. For all the struggles and challenges, children really are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127). I am preaching this to myself as one who often struggles to remember it. Kids are great fun and bring great joy.
- The Parents’ Responsibility
It’s important to remember that the education and training of our children is primarily our responsibility. Of course, many parents (this one included) choose to delegate a certain portion of this education to our schools.
The Pandemic certainly taught many of us to value our teachers in a new light.
However, in the Bible, children are not the responsibility of the state but of the family. It is parents who are ultimately responsible for bringing kids up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). And note the emphasis there – it is learning to know God that is paramount.
- The Parents’ Main Aim
I often end up in conversations with parents or grandparents who are understandably eager to have a blether about their offspring. I frequently hear about school exploits, extra-curricular sports, and exam results. Later in life the chat moves on to apprenticeships, uni courses, spouses and employment opportunities.
Doubtless some of these kids and grandkids are walking with the Lord, others perhaps are not. My observation is how seldom we speak of this vital topic. For Christian parents, seeing our kids walking with Jesus is the most important thing of all.
Please don’t hear me wrong, art, science, maths, English (etc) are seriously important, as are careers, social skills, mental health, relationships and all the rest. We want our kids to fulfil their God-given potential in every area, but we must be clear – the area of greatest importance is knowing and following Christ.
We must be mindful of the deep pain felt by the parents of prodigal children. We must also acknowledge that salvation belongs to the Lord – it is not in our gift to force faith on anyone. However, this must not keep us from stating clearly that our biggest responsibility, our greatest aim and deepest desire is to bring up our children within the corporate family of faith and walking personally with the Lord.
- The Parent’s Methods
This, I fear, is the point of despair for many of us. We know the importance of these things but where to start? Our lives feel too packed out and our heads too stressed out to accommodate some well-meaning parenting technique dreamed up and written in this article. But here’s the beauty of the Bible’s teaching. I love the simple wisdom of Deuteronomy 6:6-9
6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
This is not a call to adopt some new-fangled technique, nor does it require you to add three family Bible studies before breakfast. This Scripture simply says, ‘do live together and build in chat about the Lord on the way’.
Watched a good family film? Ask – how does it relate to the gospel? Almost all good stories do.
Find ways to build Gospel content into everyday life. I know a mum who – when her son became a typically less-than-communicative teenager – would write notes and Bible verses in a notebook for him, leading to good conversations, which he came to deeply value as he trusted Christ for himself shortly before he tragically died in an accident.
Build in the Bible and prayer in whatever ways you can and remember that doing something is ten times better than doing nothing. Our kids like to listen to audiobooks at bedtime, so the Jesus Storybook Bible it was! Now they’re older they want us to read them novels, so we make sure some of the books have a Christian theme. The older two now have their own Bible reading notes – not that they’re used as much as they should be. Other families will give you much better examples than I can.
The other key rhythm we must build like immovable concrete into the foundations of life is being at church. Some things are so in my diary they’re not even in my diary. I don’t put weekly worship in our family calendar because it doesn’t need to be there – it is absolutely non-negotiable. This piece (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/parents-go-church/) is a helpful read on the enormous benefits or weekly gathered worship.
There is so much more that could be said – the importance of camps, the utility of good Christian friendships. But time escapes us.
Kids are a joy. As parents, their training and instruction are our responsibility, and our aim must be clear: firm faith before good grades, gospel knowledge before sporting success – may the Lord have mercy on us in our weakness and our many mistakes along the way.