I’ve been a youth pastor for 10 years, taught in Christian schools for nearly 15 years and now continue to teach Christian leaders in a seminary. One of the most heartbreaking conversations to have with so many distraught Christian parents is the familiar one where they can’t figure out why their kids aren’t serving God after they raised them in church for 18 years. This is often a spiritual conundrum. Why are pastor’s kids often known as the most rebellious kids? Why are traditional church kids leaving the church in droves? Is it poor parenting or simply individual choices, free will, and the continual drawing out of the world? Trust me I don’t have it figured out, but here are some thoughts from my experience.
The fact is most parents are not the primary educators of their children and the Bible says they should be. They have passed on that God given responsibility to someone else. Parents in a Christian home have given away their spiritual heritage. Perhaps at best, parents have fallen into the trap of dropping their kids off at youth group and kids church hoping the teacher would invest in their students at the expense of them having to actually disciple their own children in Christ while they were at home. I love Christian schools, but they often fall into the same trap.
It is true that the Bible takes on a tribal community sense of bringing up children together which is given partly to the body of Christ. If you truly are living every day in covenant community than you are one of the rare ones that has found what God is offering to us in the family of Christ.
Unfortunately, the modern American “drop off” mentality is far from the mosaic we were given. In an ancient community of Yahweh, the Shema encouraged training your children 3x a day. The Sabbath encouraged the devotion to things of the Lord to be set aside in reflection every week. And lastly, the 7 Festivals of the year encouraged the community to come together remembering the Lord is everything to us. All of these OT events centered around the devotion of community family to deeper intimacy in worship of the Lord. In the New Testament this is the picture of “ALL-IN” discipleship. That we are given new life and essentially must be brought up (re-fathered) in deeper devotion to the Lord every day. It was a call to an OT sense of devotion both to your blood family and those grafted into the body of Christ. When did the church lose this kind of thinking?
Today the church has often enabled parents to “dedicate their kids to the Lord” with the expectation that someone in the church will do the discipling for them. This is a religious disease that we have to heal if we want to see generations walk in devotion to the Lord.
Biblical churches that encourage and hold parents accountable to primary Biblical training are nearly nonexistent. I’m convinced the vehicle God created (the church) for people to actually encounter Jesus Christ and be discipled in Him as a family and community of covenant has become a social club that entertains and caters to the flesh often acting as agents of empowerment away from Biblical parenting rather than shepherding people towards it.
All of us Christian parents have to ask ourselves, “Are we/did we raise our kids ‘in church’ and just expect them to magically serve God the rest of their lives because they heard good teaching in Sunday school/youth group OR are we actually teaching them how to live “in Christ” through covenant discipleship and living example towards biblical concepts in our own homes?”
I’m convinced that the awakening and revival that so many are longing for is actually going to begin in their living rooms and at dining room tables with healthy marriage, family, and sacrificial parenting. I hope people are no longer ok with giving the world 40-60 hours each and not even have an hour a week left for the discipleship of their own children. I pray the next generation sees the glaring problems of this “drop off” model in the face of Biblical advocacy. Let’s start living in covenant community and first and foremost, train up our (the community of God’s) children. Biblically this has always been a family’s first and primary life calling. Let’s get back to that kind of discipleship in the kingdom.
I’m asking parents to make a new covenant to your family. Choose today whom you will serve. Will you choose to train your children or hand them off to be trained? Every child is a student in training. Who is training your children and in what?
Here are some things to consider:
- do you give the world more time than your covenant family?
- do you spend more time than anyone else training your children?
- do you discuss what others are teaching your kids?
- are you strategically planning what you are training your family? (have you considered a plan or even a scope and sequence?)
- are you getting help in your covenant community? Two are better than 1
- do you regularly have teaching with your family? The Shema suggests 3x a day!
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6 ESV
“Train up” is the Hebrew verb chet-nun-kaf. It has two meanings. The first is the assumed root of the word hek, a word that is translated “palate.” You will find it in Proverbs 8:7 (“All the words of my mouth are righteous.”) This meaning connects Hek to speech. Speaking life into, through, and over your family. Believing and claiming the promises of Jesus as you commit to the challenge.
The second meaning is “to dedicate or inaugurate.” This is the usual meaning in Proverbs 22:6. Training is not discipline. It is dedicating the child to the full expression that God has placed within that child. Teaching, training, and shepherding actively. Holding their hands and guiding them through what matters to God, not what the world says is important.
In other words “Train up” involves both mind and action. A parent is the child’s best encourager, greatest coach and staunchest ally when the parent sees what God sees and does everything possible to assist the child to see it too. It is about parenting with the goal of bringing God’s full expression to life in the child. And no parent can do such a thing without dedicating that child to the way the child should go. Set the groundwork for God’s direction. Set it early and often, multiple times a day. Get a strategic plan and enlist the help of a tribe that is dedicated to you in covenant. And later, when that child is old, he or she will still follow the path God has laid out because the parents made it so abundantly clear.