We love to have children around. In the spring on a Wednesday night, we watched three of our toddlers crawl around the foyer floor after Bible class. It was a joy to share in their play and curiosity. A few weeks later my two-year-old granddaughter helped me pick strawberries; well I should say she was a little hesitant due to the wet leaves, but we finished the job. The older I get, the more I ponder what is going to happen to these youngsters. What will they make of themselves; and especially, will I be able to enjoy their company in Heaven?
It’s a new school year, and every good parent is constantly concerned about the future of their children. As the morals in our country, and especially in public schools, continue to slide, our concerns turn to worry. What can a parent do to raise them up, not just to be good citizens, but that we might spend eternity with them and future generations of our offspring?
Every loving parent would say in a heartbeat, “I’ll do anything to help my child!” We understand that “help” involves thousands of decisions, but even good people in the Bible had bad children. We’re going to make some mistakes! We, as parents (and grandparents, and really, anyone who cares about the children in their life), want to provide the necessary spiritual instruction, environment and influence that gives these little ones the greatest chance to turn to the Lord and follow the path He willingly gives for living [Proverbs 3:5-6].
Decisions we make every day involve percentages. What are the chances the decisions I am making will bring the results I want? That especially applies to raising children, not just to adulthood, but to eternity. The latest statistics among U.S. churches of Christ indicate only 50-55% of our children will be faithful by the time they reach adulthood. Let’s see how we can improve those percentages.
The Parameters. First of all, if we want our children to go to Heaven, who decides that? NOT us or our feelings about our children; God does. He sent Jesus to die for us, but He also laid done some responsibilities on our part. We learn from God’s word of the necessity for faith in God and His Son, confession of our faith to others, repentance of our sins, and baptism (immersion) for the forgiveness of those sins [Mark 16:16; Romans 10:10,17].
Last of all, and following baptism, we must remain faithful all of our lives [Revelation 2:10b]. That’s quite a challenge and maybe a little hard to define, so let’s go to God for a brief definition.
Ephesians 4:13 gives us the measuring stick for all Christians and that includes the goal for our children, “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Simply put, we want them to be as much like Christ as possible. When I was little, we had marks made on the kitchen doorway of the yearly growth of my four siblings and me. Mark your children’s spiritual growth by comparing them to all the things the Bible tells us about Jesus. How are they doing?
That’s still a bit murky and subjective. From Romans to Revelation was written to help us stay faithful, but one verse will help a lot. 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Is their faith steadfast and immovable? Are they always abounding in the work of the Lord? These are the ones whose labor is not in vain, because God will reward them with a crown of life [Rev. 2:10b]. When you look at them, are they fulfilling God’s statement of whom He will reward? Are you teaching them these things as they mature?
Don’t make the colossal error of thinking, “As long as they’re happy, everything will be alright.” That’s not a goal; that’s a cop out that will only lead to doom, misery and destruction.
Take Responsibility. I’m sorry that last statement seemed harsh, but we all need a wake-up call to the importance of this subject. Our children’s lives depend on it! Whose responsibility is it to teach and train our children? The public-school teacher, the Bible class teacher, the preacher; or the baby-sitter while I’m out there making more money? No, it’s us parents [Eph. 6:1-4; Prov. 22:16]! The probability of whether they will go to Heaven greatly depends on us. We say we would do anything to help our children, and now we can start testing ourselves.
Create a Spiritual Atmosphere and Attitude. I don’t know how we could misunderstand the intensity of Deuteronomy 6:7-9. Parents are supposed to teach God’s words “diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Make a plan to teach them in your homes. Remember, if they’re in public school, they are getting zero spiritual guidance, and possibly even being corrupted. Encourage the casual enjoyment of God’s word, as well, by constantly having age-relevant Bible-based books around the house. Find some appropriate Little Golden Books. I still have the year-round Bible Story Book, that was on my night stand during my elementary school years. Bring your children to every single Bible class. Don’t miss these opportunities!
Don’t stop there, though. Talk about God’s roll in their daily lives, in nature, and especially how His blessings are everywhere. God should be a natural part of our routine discussion. This may be a challenge if the subject of religion has become taboo in your home, as it is in much of our society. Make the discussion of God a positive, uplifting, and normal experience.
Don’t forget that a big part of that home atmosphere is prayer. Not only should we constantly praying for them, but they should be hearing our heartfelt prayers regularly, and we should hear theirs, too.
What about family entertainment? Will your children remember the happiest times growing up were when you invited folks from church over for a meal and games, or were you entertained mainly by foul-mouthed comedians on TV? Are your favorite media heroes trying to “measure up to Jesus” in any way? What is the spiritual atmosphere of your home?
Is your family at home at church? Strange question, isn’t it; but it is the number one thing I’ve noticed about whether children remain faithful. Is the church an involved part of your family life, or just someplace we go and speedily spend a few minutes? Are fellow Christians truly your brothers and sisters that you care about and spend time with [Acts 2:41-47], or just people you put up with and complain about? Your children hear you talking, whether you think they are or not. Your comments, especially on the way home from church, are revealing who you really are, and whether this thing called church is worth pursuing.
Teach Them to Take Responsibility. That’s really what parenting is all about! We’re trying to get them ready to leave the nest, to fly away and start their own families. Funny thing is that in western culture, we’re not doing that very well. The percentages across Europe and here, for children who never take responsibility for their own lives, are increasing. Should we be surprised at the huge numbers of people who rely on the government to provide for them? Now obviously, just because a child never marries doesn’t mean they’ve shirked their duty, but are we teaching them to take on responsibility?
We nurture our children’s skills as they grow up. Maybe it starts with making their bed. It was a ritual in my family for all us kids to do the dishes after supper. I looked forward to being big enough to help. Then I graduated to cutting the grass. Onward and upward!
Do we do that with religious things? Jesus washed the disciples’ feet in John 13. Are we leading our children, step by step, to be involved, care and serve the Lord? It seems many parents prepare them to get in the game of life with secular things, but never teach them to go beyond bench-warmers with God. Then we wonder why they’re not dedicated Christians.
Over and over the New Testament refers to the church as the body of Christ [Romans 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 1:22-23; etc.]. It is a functioning spiritual unit where every member has a purpose, a job to do, using their God-given talents. Are our children finding their place in the body?
Susan and I were finding things to do in God’s service long before we got out of high school. I noticed something about those times. Every teenager who was involved with church stuff then is still faithful today. The tragedy is that every kid who wasn’t, even if their parents had them at every service, has fallen away from the Lord’s kingdom.
Perhaps our largest failure is to neglect to teach them to have their own faith. They have freshmen fill out questionnaires at many Christian colleges. Most of these teenagers can’t explain even the basics of why they are Christians or how to become a Christian [1 Peter 3:15]. Why?
A few years ago, we had a college freshman new to the congregation where I preached. He was great! He was at every service and was a good song-leader. By springtime he was gone, never seen again. What happened? He broke up with his girlfriend, who was also a Christian, and started dating a girl who was not.
The most heart-breaking thing for parents is to teach our children right from wrong, only to see them leave the Lord’s fold. What happened? They weren’t watching out for THE BIG ONE, that one big decision that started them down the road of sin. I Cor. 15:33 and Psalm 119:115 warn us of the power of evil influence. For some reason, we know right from wrong, but give in to evil influence in a second! Parents must do a better job teaching this self-disciplining responsibility. Our children will become whom their friends are. Who are they choosing?
Follow the Leader. You, parent, are the leader. Before Moses instructed parents to teach their children 24/7 in Deut. 6:7, he told the parents, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart” [6:5-6]. We can do all the teaching possible, never miss a worship service or Bible class, and still not love God with all our hearts; and our children likely know it.
I have been shocked more than once by what kids, even second graders, said about their parents in Bible class. They know about your heart and soul from the things mentioned above. Hypocrisy in the home destroys the faith of our children more than anything else.
So, let’s ask a few questions of ourselves as parents. We want our children to learn about God, but how much do they see us reading the Bible? Do I look forward to worshipping with my brethren? What do I find most entertaining? Am I taking responsibility for my own relationship with God? Are Christians my closest friends? Do I admire the congregation’s leaders, and even the Bible class teachers? Am I a working part of the body of Christ, or a bench-warmer? Am I trying to be like Jesus? Would your children describe you as “steadfast, immovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord”? Am I living a lie?
As our children get into the teenage years, they’re thinking more and more about the answers to those questions. They know you!
The Final Tune-Up. You know what is coming for your children, because it likely happened to you. That day in their teens or twenties when they will ask themselves, “Is this church stuff really worth it? Do I want that for my life?” They seldom ask us, but we see the answer in their actions.
What we do in following God’s parental instructions has everything to do with their answer. We try the best we can. We weep tears of concern for them in our prayers. This article was written to help us fine-tune our efforts.
One final stat that is encouraging: ten to fifteen percent of the children who leave the church as they enter adulthood come back to the Lord! Proverbs 22:6 is right!
Like the prodigal son in Luke 15:17, they “come to themselves.” What will your children think of, should that happen to them? The goodness, genuineness and godliness of home?
We can make some adjustments as parents. One single mom I know watched her oldest daughter drift away from God during high school. She became like all her school friends, friendly, but no room for Christ. She had a younger daughter and she was determined not to let that happen again. She made her home environment more God-centered. She never missed another worship service or Bible class. She encouraged her to get involved. She made sure she was at every youth rally, Bible bowl and other activity for kids, even at other congregations within fifty miles. It worked! We can do something to save our children!