“… 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!”
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.
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.”
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. 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:
- Love God as a way of life (Rom 12:1-2)
- Love others as a way of life (Mark 10:45)
- Love the church and understand their roles in it (Eph 4:4-7)
- Love the Bible and recognize it as authority for life (2 Tim 3:15-17)
- Love to share the gospel (Rom 10:14-15)
- Love to grow closer to God through prayer, Bible study, and discipleship (1 Tim 4:7-12)
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. 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!
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.
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.
Jay Strother, “Family-Equipping Ministry: Church and Home as Cochampions,” in Perspectives on Family Ministry, 150.
Strother, “Family-Equipping Ministry,” 150.
Jones, Family Ministry Field Guide, 97.