The Church, Parents, and Training Children in the Faith

In today’s American culture, in order to give our kids what we feel they need, we send our kids to specialized trainers all the time. Our kids have piano teachers, math tutors, basketball coaches, dance instructors, and the list goes on and on. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with our children specializing in a particular skill by being trained by someone with expertise in that field. There’s no way that I can be an expert in everything! (Not even close!)

However, when it comes to a child’s Christian faith, the responsibility lies squarely on the parents’ shoulders.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 gives the “Shema,” the central command and creed of God’s people: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This command, of course, was expanded by Jesus in Mark 12:28–33 to also include “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

What’s important to note about this command/creed is this: That it was to penetrate beyond head and into the heart; it was to be the central aspect of every part of life at every moment. In the next verse of the Deuteronomy passage (6:4), God tells the adults that “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts,” which means it all starts with their inner motivation – will they commit to loving God with all they have?

Then God makes it clear that the matter of raising children in this kind of heart-deep love is the responsibility of parents. “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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).

Parents have the primary responsibility for “impressing upon their children” who God is, why he is loved, and our duty to serve him with our entire lives. This is not just an Old Testament command, in Ephesians 6:4, parents are instructed to “bring (your children) up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

With teachers, tutors, coaches, trainers, instructors, and other specialists in our children's lives, it becomes increasingly important that the church does not succumb to the pressure to be just another specialist to do the work of faith training and instruction. Instead, the church needs to shift the paradigm so that parents are given not only the lead role in the faith development of their children, but also the confidence to do so.

Many parents are not confident enough to teach their kids how to dribble a basketball or how to find “Middle C” on a piano, so they acquiesce to the specialists. However, when it comes to training children in the faith, the church must give parents the kind of training they need to confidently do what God has called them to do.


Menno Jones said...

I agree Bob. Parents first but it also takes a community of faith that supports and encourages such growth. The command in Deut. was given to parents that were members of a community that had community beliefs and experiences that held them together. In other words, families were on the same page. Today, in most christian communities in the west, family units are not united through a communal hope BUT through this vague "I asked Jesus into my heart" experience. This means that in most cases what one family is teaching is being contradicted by what another family is teaching.

Anonymous said...

It's great to see more senior pastors talking about stuff like this. Being in children's ministry, this is an ongoing conversation. Right now, it has reached critical mass with movements like Orange (http://www.theorangeconference.com), Faith at Home (a la Mark Holmen), Milestones (via Brian Haynes), and D6 (from Randall House).

I think the biggest thing to remember is that we need to encourage parents and empower them rather than beating them over the head, which is what I've seen far too much of in church-world. I also think that while we do encourage parents, we need to remember that the command to pass on faith is not just to the parents but to the entire community. It takes a village. We are ALL responsible.

Kendra Golden said...

In the past year or so I have felt more and more convicted about our children's ministry mission of "partnering with parents." When you look at our efforts, it really looks more like us asking them to partner with us.

Now, we are working towards simplifying and streamlining the message we teach kids and students each week so that parents are able to get back in the driver's seat instead of just being along for the ride.

Bob Robinson said...

Menno Jones,
Thanks for the good words reminding us of the importance the community of faith!

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks so much for the great resources you mention. Everybody should go check them out.

Bob Robinson said...

Nicely said -- in which direction is the partnering? "When you look at our efforts, it really looks more like us asking them to partner with us." There are ramifications for how we intentionally set up the paradigm and how we articulate that to the people in our church!

Pam Heatley said...

I agree Kendra. Streamlining is very important. We don't use a curriculum at all because I think many of them have become so complicated. If we're going to partner with the parents it's got to be simple.