We desire a strong and robust partnership between children’s ministry and parents. Some Christian parents view the church as the place where their children merely “get saved.” These parents neglect to teach the Word at home, which puts more pressure on the church to produce Christian children. They send their kids to church, Christian schools, and camps, expecting that full-time Christian ministry folks will teach, instruct, and model faith for their kids. (One ornery parent once said, “After all, that’s why we tithe, right? We pay you so you can do this work for us.”)
There is no formula to produce Christian children. No way for us to say or do the right things so that out pops a born-again kid. God must redeem our children. We know only God saves (Jonah 2:9). Yet, in his magnificent plan, he uses means to accomplish his sovereign purposes in salvation (Romans 10:14–15). God uses parents to point children to the truth and the gospel community around them to underscore the message of the gospel.
Children’s ministry (and the church as a whole) is another means that God uses to declare his truth to the coming generations. Children come weekly to sit in Bible classes, listen to the prayers from the adults, and sit under the preaching of God’s Word in the main worship service. God uses adults in church to point children to the truth.
Children’s ministry should never replace Christian instruction in the home. We teach, model, and disciple children while they are at church a few hours a week. But we also (as a church) build up parents so they can fulfill what God asks them to do — teach the next generation about who he is and about his wondrous deeds (Psalm 78:4–5).
How does the church come alongside Christian parents to equip them in this task?
1. Spiritual maturity is always our first goal
This is what we expect of parents (and any member of our church):
- They attend the weekly worship services to join with others in prayer, sing, and sit under the preaching of God’s Word.
- At least once a month, they partake of the Lord’s Supper with the rest of the congregation.
- A parent meets for one-on-one Bible study and prayer with an older, faithful Christian from the same congregation. They are mentored and poured into.
- Parents engage in regular fellowship with other believers.
- They daily spend personal time in prayer and God’s Word.
These are not optional add-ons for the Christian life. God uses these spiritual disciplines to grow parents in faith, hope, and love.
The best Christian parenting comes from a mom and dad firmly grounded in Christ. Maturity in Christ is the goal, not just for parenting, but for all of life. The apostle Paul declares,
To them, God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:27–28, emphasis added).
If parents are missing church services often (for whatever reason), if they are not plugged into a small group, if a mom or dad doesn’t meet up with an older Christian to study the Bible, if they never spend any time in the Word or prayer on their own, then we’re not moving toward this most important of goals.
2. We equip parents to know what Christian parenting looks like in the trenches of real life
You can’t presume that parents will just “get it.” If you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, then you don’t know what Christian parenting looks like. You don’t know what it means (though you can try to make up for that with Christian videos and books). You experientially don’t know what it’s like and how biblical truths shape and define a home.
There is far too often a gospel deficit in our parenting. How many parents would be embarrassed if someone played a videotape of their parenting? What would we see? Ugly comments, screaming, impatience, and constant fighting? Parents can sometimes act like the Bible is irrelevant for what happens between Monday and Saturday. You may think the work of a children’s ministry is limited to teaching the children. But the children are connected to families, and the family context is where they most grow and mature in their faith. So, helping families is often the key to real growth in these children’s lives.
The pastor can share parenting principles from the pulpit whenever it’s appropriate to the text of the sermon. Staff can also instruct in parenting classes, offered for all age groups. An older father or mother in the faith can come alongside and mentor younger parents. There is an abundance of ways we can pass on truth and wisdom to younger parents.
Terrance sat in the car with Scott, his discipler, as Scott drove his son, Jacob, to soccer practice. In recounting the story to us, Scott couldn’t remember what prompted Jacob’s tantrum, but his 4-year-old son had an all-out-scream-your-head-off fit. All the parenting books in the world can’t teach Terrance what he witnessed over the next few moments — a father frustrated at first (that’s Scott’s sin), then calming down his son with gentle words, and patiently helping little Jacob to work through his tantrum. It’s parenting in 3D — live, in person, real, and raw. Terrance, as a young believer, observed something that he never got growing up in a non-Christian home — a Christian parent whose gentleness (Proverbs 15:1), care, and patience (Ephesians 4:1–3; 6:4a) gives off the aroma of Christ.
3. We encourage parents to start with the Bible
We want to build into parents a desire and confidence to read the Bible and instruct their children. If the Bible is functionally irrelevant to what’s going on in the home and parents have no personal engagement with Scripture in their lives, it won’t show up in their interactions with the kids. If parents don’t treasure God’s Word as the very words of God himself, then the Bible will be absent from the home. However, if parents think, This book contains the very words of eternal life, they will do whatever it takes to make Scripture relevant to everything they do with their children.
Here are a few practical suggestions about a parent reading the Bible to his children. Picture Jimmy, a dad, teaching his three kids — Benny, Betty and Peter.
He reads the entire Bible. When the kids are younger, he starts with the Old Testament and Gospel stories, sometimes taking time to retell stories in his own words. As they get older, he adds and explains more abstract portions of Scripture, like the Pauline epistles.
He reads thoughtfully. If Jimmy reads with a monotone voice, his kids quickly get bored. Instead, he reads in a way that makes the words comes to life. Sometimes he even uses different voices for different characters, or more inflection and more pronounced pronunciation of key words or ideas.
He points to Jesus. Jesus is the new Adam; where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. Jimmy helps his kids make connections between the different parts of the Bible and Jesus. Moses, Joshua, and David all point forward to Christ.
He dialogues with his kids. Rather than turning it into a monologue, he asks questions to help his children engage with the stories and learn from them. “Why did God bring a flood?” (Genesis 6:11–13). “Why didn’t the rich young ruler give up his wealth?” (Matthew 19:21–22). “Why did Jesus weep when he saw Mary and the crowds after Lazarus died?” (John 11:33–35).
They pray, sing, and memorize Scripture together. Jimmy models prayer. Don’t be surprised if his kids start praying just like him, because they’ve heard him do it often. Jimmy and his kids sing truth and memorize it as another way to know Christ.
What can we do as a church to help these parents? We equip parents to understand how to read their Bible properly and how to share with their children. The kind of teaching Jimmy submits himself to in his local church will dictate how he teaches his children. If his pastor carefully explains the Bible text and applies it every time he opens the Bible, Jimmy learns from him how to read the Scriptures correctly. If an older man in the faith in one-on-one discipling works through books of the Bible with Jimmy, he learns how to read and ask questions of the text and how to apply it. And as parents learn these things, Jimmy grows more confident in his ability to do this with his children.
It’s far too easy for parents to presume that much of the Bible will be beyond their children’s comprehension. But that’s just not true. We challenge parents to teach the rich and deep truths of Scripture in a developmentally appropriate way but to not water it down.
4. We equip parents with gospel tools
Books or curriculum should never replace a family’s Bible reading, but there is an abundance of books, catechisms, curricula, and music that might help supplement our teaching. Because most Christian books or curricula are not available at your local public library, Christian parents and the church staff are a Christian resource library. Parents can highlight good books for other parents and pass them around. Church staff can also draw attention to resources and give them out on Sundays.
Parents can expand a child’s knowledge of faithful Christian living. He or she could read a biography about a Reformation character or a missionary. By reading biographies, parents offer living examples of the gospel to their children.
Parents could spend time at dinner reading about different countries in the world. It’s good to expand the children’s knowledge of God beyond the boundaries of their own neighborhood, to see how big and mighty the Lord truly is.
5. We help parents to endure in faith
Jimmy and his daughter Betty have a fight, and Jimmy spends the next hour feeling like a failure and wanting to give up. He piles self-condemnation onto the situation, mumbling to himself afterward, “You’re an idiot of a parent,” or, “You’re no better than your dysfunctional parents.”
In parenting, you want to play the long game. You help parents remember that one nasty fight or lousy day doesn’t have to set the tone for their home. Out of fear and a lack of faith, parents let hard days define them far too much, but it doesn’t have to be so. The painful reality is that parents are going to sin and make mistakes.
There are two ways we set an example of faith in Christ for our kids. The first is obvious; children learn by watching their parents obey and follow Jesus. Parents show with their day-to-day choices what it looks like to trust Christ with all of their life. But what about the times when we sin? Second, parents set a good example by demonstrating humble repentance. When parents ask God for forgiveness, turn from their sin, and lean on Christ for strength, their kids have a front-row seat. God’s grace teaches parents to live godly lives and steers us back to the cross when we fail. That is grace upon grace! These parents desperately need a heavy dose of God’s grace.
The church holds out this grace to parents and reminds them again and again that their life is rooted in God’s grace. Parents can endure and take hope as they stay grounded in the gospel.
Self-Examination: A gospel partnership
How is your church building up and supporting parents? What are you currently doing? What can you change, expand, or add to your current offerings?
Excerpted from Build on Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide to Gospel-Based Children’s Ministry ©2021 by Deepak Reju and Marty Machowski. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.