Evangelizing your children has come under question in the last generation or so. Previous generations did not give their children the choice of church or faith. If the parents attended church, the children often did as well. Personally, I understand this idea. My dad is a pastor, and he has been all my life. I didn’t get the choice of going to church. If I tried to pretend to be sick so I didn’t have to go, my parents said, “Throw up and prove it!”
However, many parents struggle with this idea because they are afraid of forcing their beliefs on their children. We react like this because of fear. We have seen the tragic story of Christian parents who tried to raise their kids according to their faith, only to be dismayed when their children rebelled. There is a real fear to pressing too hard, so that your children become rebellious and angry towards you. Scripture even realizes this reality in Ephesians 6:4 where fathers are admonished, “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger…”
In middle school ministry, I encounter many parents who wrestle with this question. They have children who have decided they are no longer interested in spiritual things and thus no longer want to come to church. Sometimes, the child goes to a church where none of their friends from school attend, and thus do not connect socially with the group. In the middle of the battle many parents due to the above mentioned fear choose to let their child choose whether or not to attend church. The parents feel caught in a helpless position between their faith and their child. If they push too hard, then they may lose their child.
So, as parents, should we proselytize our children? Is it acceptable to make believers out of them? To be socially relevant, there is this many parents want their children to make their own choices. Sometimes this is in the positive direction. I have personally led children to faith, whose parents did not believe, but wanted their children to make that decision for themselves. Furthermore, I have met Christians who want their children to willingly choose faith in Christ over being “brainwashed” into Christianity. On the other hand, some Christian parents allow their children to walk away from the faith for the sake of being culturally sensitive to how parents allow their children to express and make their own decisions. To these parents I ask, “Is the gospel of Jesus so cheap that you would trade cultural relevance with your teenager?” Let’s not give up the struggle so quickly. Instead
Scripture directs us to proselytize our children! Ephesians 6:4 did give the warning of provoking your child to anger, but it continues with a directive. It reads, “but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This is a resounding yes. Not only a yes, but this verse gives us wisdom for how to raise our children in the faith.
First, we are to discipline our children. Unfortunately, most readers will view this word with a negative connotation, somehow linking it to corporal punishment. In Scripture, to discipline someone means to train that person. Interestingly, this word occurs 6 times in the New Testament, and in every circumstance, it refers to a parent disciplining a child. What I love about a few of the uses is that the disciplining of God in our lives is what legitimizes us as spiritual sons and daughters.
To train our children is to loving guide our children in acceptable behavior for a Christian. This is exactly what God does, he disciplines us to remove our sinful, selfish behaviors and replace them with godly behaviors that reflect the image of Christ in our lives. Romans 8:28 teaches that God is conforming us into the image of Jesus because Jesus is the Son of God. Therefore, as we act more like Jesus, the sonship qualities of Jesus take hold in our lives as well.
Disciplining your child is necessary in all ages, stages, and phases. I find it most apparent though in early childhood. As parents, we cannot reason with our children as to why some behaviors are not acceptable as children of God. They lack the cognitive ability to process that. We thus direct them with quick and succinct commands when they are at this age. This practice should not continue forever in their lives because it is the simplest form of disciplining your child both against negative actions and for positive actions.
Second, we are to instruct our children. Instruction, refers to teaching specifically in the context of wisdom and knowledge. Here a parent is revealing wisdom to their children that was previously unknown to their child. Simply stated, a parent should teach their child why certain behaviors are acceptable for children of God.
This action also is present at all ages, stages, and phases, but it takes a stronger role in the age of middle and high school children. Why? In middle school a child begins to develop abstract thought. Puberty changes a child’s mind exponentially more than it changes her body. There needs to be a rationale behind the actions dictated them by their parents. To avoid this practice is to inhibit the maturation of your child’s faith. A child’s faith must be allowed to mature, or they will find it cumbersome and simplistic in adulthood.
I find parents failing in both of these areas. As parents, we must both discipline and instruct to lead our children to a mature faith. I myself struggle with the second one, because it is not expedient. I want my children to obey more than I want them to understand. At this point, my children are still younger, but with every day it seems I am explaining my decisions to them more and more. The process is much more tedious, but the end result is by far more excellent.
If you choose not to discipline your children, then they will never learn the basics of faith and spiritual habits. If you habitually choose not to read your bible outside of church, then you will not train your child in such a discipling. If you choose language that does not reflect faith, then your children will use similar language as you. If you don’t at least make the effort to discipline them, the second problem of instructing them will be moot.
Kenda Creasy Dean wrote a book called Almost Christian. She wrote this book in response to the trend of teenagers who grew up in church, then choosing to leave the faith upon adulthood. Her argument was teens were not rebelling against their parents’ faith. Instead, these teens were following the inevitable outcome of their parents’ mediocre faith. For example, a parent who espoused Christianity but allowed faith to minimally affect his daily life actually taught his children that faith was not that important. Thus, his children jettisoned faith as unnecessary moral weight.
Truthfully, the root of this problem is our own sin as the parents. We struggle to discipline our children in godliness because we ourselves lack discipline. We do no instruct our children, because of laziness. Sometimes, we skip the instruction, because the biblical instruction would not match our worldly actions. After all, we are all sinful, broken parents trying to raise our children to be godly.
My chief encouragement is to place yourself in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Allow Him to change your life in your discipline and to instruct you in all righteousness as John 16:13-15 promises. Then, invite your children into that relationship. Discipline them as the Holy Spirit has disciplined you. Instruct them in the joys of knowing the Lord. In so doing, you present your life as a sacrifice to God and allow him to affectionately draw your children to himself.