Guardians of the Soul: Church and Parents as Gospel Partners

“… bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” -Ephesians 6:4

Within the 5th and 6th chapters of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he takes time to address family relationships. He commands all to “look carefully how you walk” and to live by the Spirit. He commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and wives to be led by their husbands as they are led by Christ. He commands children to obey their parents. But here, and perhaps most surprisingly, Paul gives a countercultural injunction to fathers not to provoke their children to anger. Instead, they are to bring them up in the Lord. Of this command, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says:

“If we are to carry out the Apostle’s injunction, therefore, we must sit back for a moment, and consider what we have to do. When the child comes we must say to ourselves, ‘We are the guardians and the custodians of this soul.’ What a dread responsibility!”[1]

This command echoes a common theme in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 6, it is parents who are told to teach the ways and commands of God to their children. This is not a command to priests or religious leaders, but to everyday, normal parents.

Outsourcing

While the church has not directly or intentionally taken the primary role of discipleship from parents, it has created an atmosphere that does not encourage the parental role in their children’s spiritual lives. In general, the church has sent the message to parents that discipleship is the responsibility of “trained professionals.”[2]

We live in a society of “outsourcing.” Except for homeschool families and certain other circumstances, academic training has been outsourced to schools. Athletic training is outsourced to coaches. Musical training is often outsourced to private teachers. Because of this cultural mentality, we outsource discipleship to the church. But the church cannot fully disciple your child in one to two hours per week.

Additionally, the common model of complete age-separated church programs prevents children and youth from witnessing mature Christian adults in a church setting. This stunts their spiritual growth. How can we expect children to learn how to grow in their faith if they are constantly separated from adults during worship, bible study, and prayer? While age-separated ministries are surely good and allow both adults and children to learn in an appropriate environment, inter-generational meetings must be equally, if not more, important.

So What’s the Church’s Role?

The church’s goal must be to partner with parents to see God raise up generations of children and students who love God with all their hearts, souls, and strength.[3] Parents are not wrong to “outsource” spiritual growth to the church, but both parents and church leaders must take the role of the parent seriously. In partnering with and consistently acknowledging parents, the church must seek to grow children who:

  1. Love God as a way of life (Rom 12:1-2)
  2. Love others as a way of life (Mark 10:45)
  3. Love the church and understand their roles in it (Eph 4:4-7)
  4. Love the Bible and recognize it as authority for life (2 Tim 3:15-17)
  5. Love to share the gospel (Rom 10:14-15)
  6. Love to grow closer to God through prayer, Bible study, and discipleship (1 Tim 4:7-12)[4]

Parents are indeed the primary guardians of the soul when it comes to their children, but churches must not leave them alone in this. The church not only shares this role with parents, but must also equip and encourage them as they bring up their children in the Lord.

So What’s the Parents’ Role?

As a parent, your goal must be to see your family and children in light of the gospel.[5]  You may be concerned that you lack the training and lack the time to talk to your children about God. The good news is you don’t need any training! Any bible study, prayer, or casual faith discussion, no matter how simple, can be effective. Even so, churches can provide this training. Ask your pastor “how can I teach my kids about God at home?” and you will be met with enthusiasm and helpful tips. (You can also check out the Family Ministry Resources section of my site.)

As far as a lack of time, well, that’s up to you! You have to begin to ask yourself what your priorities are. Is my children’s spiritual growth my top priority for them? Will I make whatever sacrifices are necessary to be able to teach them? If so, you may need to ask God what those sacrifices are. If you commit yourself to the discipline of talking to your children about their faith, He will help you by His Spirit.

By the grace of God, may we faithfully be the guardians of the souls of our children!

 

 

[1]David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home and Work: An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18 to 6:9 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 290.

[2]Timothy Paul Jones, Family Ministry Field Guide (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2011), 83; Jones, “The Task Too Significant to Hire Someone Else To Do,” 17.

[3]Jay Strother, “Family-Equipping Ministry: Church and Home as Cochampions,” in Perspectives on Family Ministry, 150.

[4]Strother, “Family-Equipping Ministry,” 150.

[5]Jones, Family Ministry Field Guide, 97.

I want to be like my son when I grow up

My son Micah is 18-months old, and he is amazing. I knew I would love being a dad, but I had no idea how much I would love it until Micah was born. I also didn’t fully realize how much having a kid would sanctify me. I’ve had to learn patience and grace in a whole new way. But what I was truly not expecting was how much Micah would teach me. The other day in IKEA, I learned how much I want to be like Micah.

I am proud of Micah for some silly things. Like “eating 3 pieces of chicken” and “pooping.” But in IKEA, I had never been prouder. Our family has spent the last month transitioning from Spartanburg, SC to Hampton, VA. In the meantime, we are living with my parents in Richmond. Since we decided to give our couches away before we left Spartanburg, we went to IKEA in Northern Virginia to seek out our new couch.

Arriving at the store was the typical “do you want to ride in the cart or walk? Oh… you want to PUSH the cart. Awesome.” He wanted to push elevator buttons. He tried to flush fake toilets. He was all over the place, and it was slightly annoying, but mostly just fun.

As I was following Micah around, he began interacting with the multitude of children populating the living section. And that’s when I realized he was my role model.

He walked up to a pair of chairs and wanted to sit in one. In the other chair sat a little girl who appeared about a year older than him. Her father was a few feet away, holding a newborn. Her mother stood close by, wearing a hijab that covered most of her face. Being ever the social butterfly, Micah waved and smiled at all of them. I thought about how Micah had no idea that they looked a little different from us, nor that the mother’s face was covered. He just saw people and wanted to be their friend. And as I realized the purity and beauty of that moment, I fell in love with my son all over again.

As we walked through the store, Micah interacted with everyone he saw. Many were different from him, but he didn’t care. He played for several minutes with a little girl of another race at a play kitchen set. He just liked everyone he met.

At an IKEA mere miles from Washington, DC, children met each other and showed no bias. I want to be more like Micah and those other children that day. It was beautiful and amazing, but to them, it was just a normal day.

My Values for a Family-Equipping Church

As I have been developing my personal philosophy for a family-equipping church, I came up with these five key points. I believe these are essential for a church that wants to truly train parents to disciple their children.

  • A family-equipping church makes it a priority to train parents to teach the Bible.
  • A family-equipping church teaches parents to see God in everyday life so they can do the same for their children.
  • A family-equipping church prioritizes the role of parents in the lives of their children.
  • A family-equipping church incorporates parental training within current programs.
  • A family-equipping church sends families on mission.

Family Ministry for All

I will be teaching a series on Family Discipleship on Sundays @ 4pm beginning October 2nd! I am so excited to offer this class as a local church partnership initiative. The class will be hosted by Fairforest Baptist Church. See the link below for FREE registration to this event!

familyministryforall1.eventbrite.com

Sessions will include:

Session 1, Oct. 2nd: Why family discipleship?
Session 2, Oct. 9th: What is family discipleship and worship?
Session 3, Oct. 16th: A church based family-equipping ministry
Session 4, Oct. 23rd: Tools for family worship
Session 5, Oct. 30th: Adoptive ministry- helping families in crisis
Session 6, Nov. 6th: Keep it going- how to maintain family worship when life gets busy