Theological training begins in the home. Our first (and often most formative) teachers are our parents. Now that I am a parent, as well as a pastor of many parents who want to see their children grounded in the gospel, I hope to begin a conversation here that can help parents and future parents strengthen one another in the immeasurably weighty task of passing on our faith to the next generation. I am by no means writing as an expert here, but as an ever-learning, ever-growing disciple of Jesus and parent who still has a long way to go. I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments section about your ideas and experiences in the wonderful adventure of parenting.
Over the next several posts, I will share ideas about what we as parents can do to help our children develop roots that go deep into the gospel. Here are the first two:
1. Recognize your limitations. As a parent, you have an enormous influence over the hearts of your children, but you do not have absolute power. Only the Holy Spirit can convict of sin, give spiritual life, and produce true repentance and faith in them. You have the ability to shape, to some degree, how they behave, which in turn will affect their hearts. But God has not equipped you or commanded you to make your children love him. Recognizing your limits in this regard has two major advantages: First, it can keep you from demanding too much of yourself and carrying around a burden of guilt because you haven’t measured up to your own unrealistic expectations. Second, it can drive you to utter dependence on God for the salvation of your children. Although it may sound cliche, it remains true that the most important thing you can do for your children is pray for them. Only God can change their hearts, so lean on him, plead with him, and trust him.
2. Delight in your children. Although we cannot impart spiritual life to our children, we can be obedient channels of grace through whom God works for their salvation. And I believe one of the most important things we can do as such is simply delight in them. Through the formative years of their lives, children develop the capacity to love and receive love largely through the influence of their parents. What is interesting about this normal process of human development is that it seems to parallel very closely what it looks like to receive and delight in the gospel. Notice Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers in Ephesians 3:14-19:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Paul prays for supernatural power for his readers. Power for what? Power to know what surpasses knowledge: the love of Christ for them. If we want children who delight in the gospel, what we really want is children who have the spiritual capacity to “take in” the love of Christ.
And what is the training ground where they will learn that they are loved, and that they can entrust themselves to those who love them? The training ground is, very often, the home, where the echo of God’s love for them resonates in their hearts through their parents.
So love your children, and show that you love them by delighting in them. Waste time with them. Laugh with them. Make up games on the spot to play with them. Hug them. Hold them. Tell them often that you love them. With every affirmation of love, you are helping form a heart within them that will have the capacity to receive the love of Christ for them expressed in the gospel. As a parent, you are an authority figure, not a buddy. But if you come across as a cold authoritarian who is only waiting to pounce on every instance of disobedience, you will be shaping in your children a false understanding of God. Yes, make the lines of authority clear, but express your authority in the context of warmth, love, and delight in these precious gifts God has given you.
What ideas do you have about grounding our children in the gospel? What practices have worked well in your family? Please share with us.