Basic Truths in Discipling Children at Home
Several influences war against spiritual growth of children—and as in any war, we must know our enemy. First of all, most Christian parents have not come to realize their profound, God-given responsibility. They may realize the importance of good child-rearing, but most parents do not intentionally create disciples of Jesus. Indeed, the overall failure of Christian parents is extremely serious when one realizes the negative spiritual impact society has on our children and, more importantly, the negative impact their lack of spiritual development can have on their eternal existence.
Secondly, the vast majority of parents tend to farm out their children’s upbringing to the public-school system, day-care organizations, nannies, sports, television viewing, and so forth. In general, this cultural practice stems from the passionate desire in the United States to experience the “American Dream.” In other words, we deliberately or unintentionally relinquish our responsibility as parents to pursue our own aspirations. In our modern society both Mom and Dad work outside the home in order to experience a desired lifestyle. And yet, God mandates that believers “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). Sadly, we often look to further our own kingdom and, in governing our lives this way, have sacrificed our children at the altar of materialism. Thus, many children are raised by nannies or sent to pre-school programs, followed by traditional government-run school. In these public schools they constantly face ungodly peer pressure, humanistic based education, as well as exposure to sexual promiscuity, drugs, and homosexual lifestyles, to name a few. And when the children are home in the evenings, parents often spend little time or effort capitalizing on the remaining few hours of their children’s day.
To further complicate this problem, the US has become overrun by a large number of broken homes, void of the benefit of a father’s involvement on a daily basis. This much too common single-parenting environment has devastated our homes at an epidemic proportion. As Viv Grigg said, “Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality.”1 Likewise, “Four out of every ten children in the United States will go to sleep in homes where their fathers do not live. Before they reach the age of eighteen, more than half of America’s children are likely to spend at least a significant portion of their childhood living apart from their fathers.”2 No wonder we have so many problems in our society. We tend to blame the school system when the greatest problem is the lack of both a father and mother, and often neither parent is raising their children. In short, children will never be raised with moral attributes and never be correctly discipled until parents once again function the way God intended.
The third influence that wars against the spiritual growth of children, as mentioned briefly above, is the influence of ungodly peer influence on children and teens. In 1 Corinthians 15:33 the apostle Paul said, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (see also Ps. 1; Prov. 4:4; 13:20). We should never underestimate the impact of peer pressure on the lives of youth. I am not saying parents should shelter their children from the world. We need to teach them to be “in the world but not of the world” (John 17:14–16). We shouldn’t shelter them from every aspect of the world’s influence, but we do need to teach them to not live as the world lives. The challenge is finding the proper balance. For those who have their children in traditional public schools, the influence of peer pressure will be much greater in intensity and quantity than most children or teens can bear.
Though I appreciate the mission and effort of many Christian schools, they also often become a substitute for parents. Instead of discipling their own children, parents often pawn them off to a Christian school. This source of spiritual development on average is better than what can take place in a public school; however, no matter how good the school or the faculty, Christian-school teachers are always a poor substitute for godly parental discipleship. School teachers simply have too many students and must focus primarily on academics instead of life issues. Another element that hinders spiritual development in most schools, including Christian schools, is the fact that many peers are not believers or live an ungodly life often unknown by busy parents. Therefore, the negative peer pressure multiplied by the number of hours at school often has a negative impact of the student.
What about our responsibility to be light and salt in a needy world? Many well-meaning parents believe that their teenagers need to be missionaries to their unsaved friends in the public school. This desire may be a great aspiration. However, most Christian youth are not spiritually able to withstand the negative pressures from other students, as well as the humanistic philosophical teaching they face day in and day out. If your child is somehow ready for that challenge, he or she is much more mature than most Christian teens. A fourth and final influence that wars against the spiritual growth of children is the danger of public education vastly indoctrinating children from Christian homes with a secular and humanistic worldview. This has colored their philosophical foundation, impacting their presuppositions and conclusions used to direct their life decisions. This worldview promotes feminism, lessens the sanctity of life, and encourages the quest for a materialistic self-seeking lifestyle void of God and the moralistic life he purports.
As you can clearly see, there are many battlefronts Satan has created to prevent our children from becoming disciples of Christ. No wonder our society is declining year after year. The solution falls directly on parental responsibility.
The Bible lays out many principles on discipling children. These are truths we must learn and embrace if we are to help our children become disciples of Jesus Christ.
God Owns All Things
Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (see also Ps. 50:9–12). God owns our children and has graciously given them to us to steward their upbringing.
Humans are Born with a Sinful Nature
Children are not born as a blank slate that simply needs to be programmed. Addressing mankind’s sinfulness, Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” The child is not a sinner because he sins; he sins because he is a sinner (Jer. 17:9; Prov. 22:15; Rom. 3:10–12). A child doesn’t have to be taught how to sin, but we have to begin training them to abstain from their sinful impulses.
The Importance of Example
Children learn much from observation; therefore, the example of parents significantly influences their lives. They not only adopt mannerisms and characteristics from Mom and Dad but also learn how to be godly fathers or mothers. It is during childhood that one learns about the husband and wife roles in the family. It is during these years that a child learns how a man relates to a woman and how a woman relates to a man. More than anything else, what he or she learns from their parents’ example prepares the child for the relationship with his or her future spouse. Children also learn leadership and discipline, which is critical as they function as adults.
Their moral framework comes primarily from their parents’ example, so we cannot underestimate the importance of parents’ example in the discipleship process of children.
Behavior Needs to Radiate from Correct Heart Attitudes
It is extremely important that parents do not raise their children to just develop good behavioral habits. Often these habits are not based on the proper motivation, and so once children leave their parents’ home they no longer have to obey them because they are now their own supervisor. Instead, their behavior needs to be based on heart attitudes motivated by a personal desire to obey God. Developing these heart attitudes, based on the Word of God, should be one of the priorities as the parent goes through the discipleship process.
Time with Children is Foundational to the Discipleship Process
Very critical to everything we cover in this chapter is the amount of time parents spend with their children. Deuteronomy 6:6–9 challenges parents as they raise their children. Here Scripture stresses the necessity of teaching our children all day long. The “words,” or content, to which the verse refers, is the Law or the Word of God, which parents must teach not so much through family devotions as through lifestyle. Practicing the principle in this passage takes a major commitment of time—far more time than the lifestyles of most parents allow.
In the Old and New Testament period as in most of the history of the world, until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution around the middle of the eighteenth century, parents spent time with their children throughout the day, every day. Fathers would take their sons to work with them, whether it was to work in the family trade or out in the field. Daughters, likewise, worked with their mothers cooking, mending cloths, cleaning, and gardening.
At great spiritual cost to their children, both parents in the twenty-first century usually go off to work and farm their children out to others such as a nanny, preschool nursery, and public or private schools. The primary reason both parents spend their life outside of the home in vocational pursuits is the debt trap. Early in their relationship many young couples go into debt in order to get all the things they desire such as furniture, cars, a home, etc. Because they bury themselves in debt, both parents have to work—requiring that their children be raised and educated by other people.
When children are home from school their time is taken up in activities away from parents such as homework, soccer, baseball, gymnastics, music lessons, and recreation with friends. Dad plays golf or joins the baseball or bowling league, while Mom takes care of shopping, cleans house, and updates her Facebook page. What little time the parents have is not used in a way that guides children to become disciples of Christ.
Without question, the rich involvement of parents in the life of the child will provide a primary lifestyle teaching tool: the teachable moment. These moments in which a child asks questions provide an opportunity in which his interest is peaked. These are golden opportunities for discipleship. Answering the “why” questions from a biblical framework will help the child develop his own convictions based on God’s Word. They are not just “sit-down moments” of instructional discussion, but often occur “along the way,” as described in our passage from Deuteronomy above. They may occur while riding in the car together, while mother and daughter prepare a meal, while father and son work on the car. Therefore, we should not, unless absolutely necessary, tell our child, “not now, I’m busy.” Even when we are truly busy, we must exercise a measure of discipline.
Remember, teachable moments are gemstone opportunities for child discipleship—but they usually don’t occur at a time that’s convenient for us. But by taking advantage of these divine appointments, we reflect Christ’s approach to discipling his twelve disciples. Indeed, he always took time to use life circumstances, such as answering his disciples’ questions. Child discipleship that impacts their character development does not come primarily from a class or a devotional―though these materials have a level of worth when taught correctly―but by way of conversations and events that take place during everyday life. (See my book for a complete exposition on this topic.)
Discipling Children is not the responsibility of the Christian School or the Church. Assuming the parents are believers and have a level of maturity, it is their responsibility to disciple their own children.
1. Grigg, Viv, Companion to the Poor (Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1990), 29.
2. Morehouse Conference on African American Fathers, Turning the Corner on Father Absence in Black America (Morehouse Research Institute, 830 Westview Dr. SW Atlanta, GA 30314 (404) 215-2676); Institute for American Values 1841 Broadway, Suite 211, New York, NY 10023 (212) 541-6665), 6.
(This excerpt comes from chapter 13 of Changing the Landscape of Eternity)
View the video series “Discipling Our Children at Home“