Chapter 1

A Parent’s Responsibility

“Consider family religion not merely as a duty imposed by authority,

but as your greatest privilege granted by divine grace.” —Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that traditional family life has changed over the last decade in North America. All you have to do is look around your city, neighborhood, or school, or simply turn on the television to see how family life has changed. Leave It to Beaver has been replaced with television shows like Modern Family, which promotes alternative views of family life. Statistics show that divorce rates and teen violence have been skyrocketing for the past decade in North America and England.

 There are obvious cultural influences that have had a significant effect on families, such as technology, television, and media. However, we can’t blame it all on the culture. Christians are responsible for much of the problem as well. One of the primary reasons is that we have taken an individualistic approach to faith and this has not emphasized the corporate nature of Christianity. The result is that we have produced a generation of consumeristic, and not radically committed, disciples of Jesus Christ.

Consumeristic Christianity sees the church as a place that is all about me, my wants, and my needs; a place of goods and services, instead of being a place where we are challenged to grow, serve, give, and go back into the world in mission. The result of embracing individualism and cultural consumerism has negatively affected contemporary Christianity. Author Alan Hirsch wrote, “We can’t make disciples based on a consumerist approach to the faith. We plainly cannot consume our way into discipleship . . . consumption is detrimental to discipleship.” For people to grow as disciples they need more than a consumeristic faith; they need a faith that is lived together.

The culture and our consumeristic Christianity have had a devastating effect on the faith of our youth. Recent statistics show that more youth are turning away from the faith than ever before: it is estimated that as many as 70–80 percent of teens who profess Christianity walk away from their faith by the end of their freshman year of college. We have to radically rethink how we are raising our children in the faith.

Several years ago Hillary Clinton famously quoted the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” While there is truth in this, nothing can replace the crucial role of the family. It takes a family to raise a child. More than ever, we need to step back and rethink the importance and value of doing faith together as a family.

The answer is that we need to bring faith back into the home through family discipleship. What good is it if you make disciples of your neighbors and coworkers, yet neglect to disciple your own children? Parents, we need family discipleship. In the next few pages, I want to share some words of encouragement with parents as you seek to live out this great task of family discipleship.

Parenting is an amazing responsibility. I will never forget February 25, 2004. It was the day our first daughter, Elizabeth Susanna, was born. It was the day that I became a parent. It was a very emotional day. After a long day of labor, my wife had to have a c-section. In the end, we had a beautiful, nine-pound baby girl!

Shortly after she was born, I found myself alone in a dimly lit hospital room holding Elizabeth. She was crying and I was crying too, probably for different reasons. As tears rolled down my face, I was overwhelmed with the emotion of being a new father and holding my tiny baby girl for the first time ever. I can still remember being overcome with a sense of holy responsibility. I was holding a little human that God had created and entrusted to my wife and me for safekeeping.

As I write this, Elizabeth will be ten years old in a few days. Reflecting back on that night, my sense of godly responsibility for her is still the same today as it was the day she was first born. The only difference is that she is a lot older now and I can barely pick her up!

Having children is one of life’s most wonderful privileges that carries with it an amazing responsibility to shape the hearts and lives of our children. In fact, I can’t think of any greater responsibility than being entrusted with a human life. We have been made stewards of the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of our children.

The call to “make disciples” begins in our homes first. It is our spiritual responsibility as parents to teach our children about the faith. Proverbs instructs, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6). As Christian parents, we should desire for our children to have a firm foundation and grow up to love Jesus and know what the Bible says about their lives.

Many parents believe that it is the church’s responsibility to raise their children in the faith. Too often, people think that the church is more like a babysitting service to watch our kids for a few hours a week. Nothing could be further from the truth. While church is important, the Bible tells us that the home is the primary place of learning the Bible and giving moral instruction. The church is meant to support parents in discipling their children. In Deuteronomy 6:5–9, we read:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 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.”

This passage offers us a paradigm for raising our children in the faith and being missional families. First, it is important for parents to understand that discipleship begins with us and in us. The “words that I command you today shall be on your heart” is a message for parents. Family discipleship is not something we do for the kids, but it is for parents as well. In family discipleship, parents and children alike are shaped into disciples of Jesus Christ. I would like to encourage you to let your hearts be transformed by the same truths as your children.

Second, we are reminded that faith is not just something that we do once a week, but something that should be incorporated into the daily routines of the home. We should “teach them diligently . . . talk of them when you sit in your house.” This means we should have a regular time to teach our faith to our children. In life, we schedule what is most important to us. If you don’t plan a time to talk to your children about their faith, it will most likely not happen.

We should find moments to talk about our faith throughout the day with our families. How do we spend our time? Watching television, playing video games, or shopping? Sadly, many families devote more time to these things than they do teaching their children about God, or just simply spending quality time together. There are teachable moments to share our faith with our children throughout each day. The problem is that we are too busy to take advantage of them. Choose a time that works best for you—dinner, bedtime, breakfast.

Third, faith is not meant to be confined to the home, but lived in our daily lives and in our communities. We learn as we go through life. Home is where faith learning begins, but the real world is where it is lived. Take time to stop and teach your children faith lessons in the car or at the grocery store. Christianity isn’t just about knowing God, but living for Him. Children want a real faith that they connect to and live out. Make opportunities to serve in the local community and to share your faith together as a family.

Grace and Parenting

Real family discipleship is always grace-centered. There is an important connection between grace and parenting because what we believe about God’s love has a direct effect on how we parent our children. In many ways, our parenting is the fruit of our theology. What we believe about God, His love, His discipline, and His forgiveness will affect how we love, forgive, and discipline our children. If we see God as a dictator, we will become a dictator to our children. If we see God as a loving, gracious, heavenly Father who has given His Son for us, then we can be loving, gracious parents who are willing to sacrificially love our children.

Children and parents both need to be reminded of God’s grace. Children are never too young and parents are never too old to learn the simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We all need it! The hearts and minds of both parents and children are transformed as we grow together in our faith through the great truths of the gospel of grace.

Perhaps more that anything, the gospel of grace reminds us of our own personal need for God’s grace in our lives, our hearts, and our homes. God’s grace is the foundation of Christian parenting because it begins and ends with His love for us and for our children. Grace means that our relationship with God is free and not based upon good deeds or anything that we can do. It means we can never be good enough to earn God’s love. We can do nothing to make God love us more than He already does.

Grace is good news for parents because we are not perfect and we sin every single day. Christian parenting is not about our perfection, but it is about His grace and His forgiveness. When we sin and fall short, God’s grace is sufficient to keep us from falling. Paul reminds us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). As a father, there have been many days when I have felt like a failure and I just wanted to give up. There have been times when I have lost my temper or said something to my family that was not out of love and I have had to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness and for my family’s forgiveness as well. In moments like these, we need to be reminded that God’s grace is sufficient for our lives and our homes. Grace is good news for imperfect parents!

Don’t Go It Alone

Parenting can be a lonely business. Sometimes we can feel like we are all alone and like nobody knows what we are going through. It is easy to sink into condemnation and compare ourselves to the parents down the street who look like they have it all together. The truth is, they probably don’t. Once you begin to talk with other parents you will realize that you are not alone and that most parents feel the same way you do.

All parents face similar problems and issues, such as trying to teach our children discipline, respect, and self-control. It is a good idea to fellowship with other parents, and to feel supported in your role as a parent. See if your church offers a parenting group. If not, you can help start one. Invite unchurched parents from your neighborhood to see what a Christian family looks like. We learn together and from one another, so reach out and find a community of parents who are wrestling with the same issues that you are.

As parents, we also need mentors in our lives. Like Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit, everyone needs a Gandalf, and every parent needs a mentor in their life. Our churches are full of seasoned parents who have faithfully raised their children. These men and women would love to share their parenting experiences with young parents who are just beginning their family journey. The key is being humble and willing to learn from an experienced couple who have already raised their children.

You’d be surprised how many older parents would love to mentor a young family. After we had our first child, my wife and I began to seek wisdom from older couples in our church. As a result, I can think of many men and women who have taken the time to disciple my wife and me in the art of parenting. Not to mention that these older parents are usually the best babysitters!

Be Yourself

Lastly, parents, be yourself. Don’t try to be something or someone that you are not. Some people think that they need to act, dress, or talk a certain way in order to be a good parent. This is a false perception that leads many parents down the wrong road. Nobody likes it when a person is trying to be somebody or something that they are not, especially God.

I’m reminded of the movie Fun with Dick and Jane, starring Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni as Dick and Jane Harper, an upper-middle-class couple who resort to robbery after the company for which Dick works goes bankrupt. It’s a funny parody of the downside of what can happen when we try to keep up with the Joneses. Don’t end up like Dick and Jane Harper; just be yourself and God will help you take care of the rest!

The Lord wants to use your unique gifts, talents, and personality to disciple your children. No two people are the same; therefore, no two parents are the same. There is a unique home that God has created just for you. Only when we are who God has created us to be can we truly disciple our children. So be yourself, relax, and enjoy the journey of family discipleship.

Grow At Home

The Bible is at the very heart of family discipleship. It deserves a proper place in the home, not only on our bookshelves, but in our hearts and minds. Knowing what the Scriptures teach us about the family, children, and our responsibility as parents is absolutely essential to shepherding our children. Without the Bible, parenting can just become a mere form of behavior modification or psychological control. As we begin this book, I would like to encourage you to take some time to prayerfully study the following Scriptures on the family. Let them sink into your heart and inspire your faith as you take up the great task of discipling your children.

Deuteronomy 6:7: You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Ephesians 6:4: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Proverbs 29:15: The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

Colossians 3:21: Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

Proverbs 29:17: Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.

Proverbs 22:15: Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

Psalm 127:3–5: Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

2 Timothy 3:16: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

Proverbs 15:5: A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.

Matthew 19:14: But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Proverbs 19:18: Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.

1 Samuel 1:27–28: “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

1 Samuel 2:26: Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.

Proverbs 31:27–28: She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.

Luke 2:52: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.