FIRST-PERSON: Wanted: Deliberately Christian parents

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--While I was in college I served on several church staffs in short-term positions. One of the things that continually bothered me is the lack of overt Christian conviction so many parents showed in respect to how they raise their children. These weren't just the halfhearted church "members" who show up only for special holidays and controversial church conferences. Many of them were committed members of the church, even spiritual leaders. They served as deacons, Sunday School teachers and committee chairpersons. They sang in the choir. They prayed publicly in worship services. They probably had daily devotions. Unfortunately, too many of them did not actively minister to their children.

I have often reflected on reasons why so many of these parents could be open about their faith at church, yet do little or nothing when it came to actively teaching their children about the Christian faith. There are probably several reasons, but I think one looms above all the rest. These parents had abdicated their role as the shepherds of their children's hearts. This is partly because pastors have failed to teach their people what it means to be a Christian parent.

I doubt this relinquishing was a deliberate act for most of these parents. The majority of them no doubt desired to be godly parents and raise godly children. Unfortunately, when it came to practice, the spiritual nurture of their children ultimately became the job of the church. There were Sunday School classes where the kids could memorize Scripture and learn about God. There were children's choirs where the kids could sing songs to God. There were children's ministries where the kids could have fun in a Christian atmosphere under Christian supervision. There were of course Vacation Bible Schools where the kids could have Christian-oriented summer activities.

Each of these things are good and useful ministries in many local churches. The problem is these ministries are meant to be supplementary to what parents do within their homes. They were never supposed to take the place of Christian parents teaching and training and loving and praying their children into the Kingdom of God themselves. I fear that too few parents today have the privilege of leading their children to faith in Christ. That has become the job of church camps, VBS teachers and pastors.

Of course, many children do not have Christian parents or guardians. To many of these children, the only Gospel they will ever hear comes from a Sunday School teacher or VBS worker. Unfortunately, this scenario is far too common in homes where one or both parents are Christians, and often "committed" ones at that. The church is doing what God ordained Christian parents to do; nurturing their children in the faith.

Our churches need more parents who will strive to be deliberately Christian in the way in which they raise their children. This doesn't just mean raising their children in a home where Christian values abound, though that is critically important. It means actually parenting in such a way as to seek to lead your lost children to saving faith in Jesus Christ, then actively helping them to grow in that faith.

The good news is, there are some encouraging trends in evangelicalism that just might help bring about a needed reformation in Christian parenting. First there is homeschooling. While not for every family, many a parent has realized that homeschooling provides a natural atmosphere where they can actively evangelize and disciple their children. The teaching parent, normally the mother, spends quality time with their children every day. Many homeschooling curricula are Christ-centered, making it easier to talk to children about spiritual things. By all indications, homeschooling is only going to become more popular as time goes on.

Many families have family devotions, where they regularly gather together to read the Bible together and discuss what they find. They pray together as a family, and many also sing hymns of praise together. This can be scary for many parents because it means somebody (ideally the father) has to actually teach their family what specific Bible passages mean. Fortunately, there are many resources available for the parent who is somewhat intimidated about leading their family in formal devotions. Many Christian bookstores carry a variety of helps for the parent interested in leading family devotions. It is wonderful that so many families are realizing that worship is not just for the church, but for the household as well.

One of the most exciting trends is the rediscovery of catechisms by many young Baptist parents. A catechism is a series of questions and answers dealing with basic Christian doctrine. The children (and their parents) memorize specific theological questions and the corresponding answers. Oftentimes the relevant Scripture passages are memorized along with the specific question and answer. Catechizing children teaches them from an early age who God is, what Jesus Christ has done on behalf of his people, and what we can do to be reconciled to God. This sounds very countercultural to many people, but it should be noted that the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) was printing catechisms as late as the 1950s.

A highly-recommended Baptist catechism is available online from Desiring God ministries at Catechisms are not a new thing, but a rediscovery by contemporary Baptists of a practice that has a rich heritage in the Baptist tradition and the church universal.

These are just a few of the things that God is doing to build stronger families. As our culture becomes increasingly decadent, the time is now for parents to raise their children under the lordship of Jesus Christ. If we do not, we may well lose them. We cannot count on our local churches to do what God has called believing fathers and mothers to do.

My wife and I do not have children yet, but we hope to one day in the not-to-distant future. We pray often for our future children even now, and we look forward to the challenges and rewards that come from being deliberately Christian parents.

Finn is a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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