Parenting and work: Helping our children gain a sense of belonging

May 23, 2018

If you asked me for a symbol that best sums up discipleship in our house, I would hand you a Bible. But, if you asked me for another, I would probably point you to a garbage pail. The Bible speaks for itself, but the garbage pail might need more explanation.

Our children each have chores around the house, and this is where it starts. When they are old enough to walk about, each of them has been assigned that initial job, to carry scraps from the kitchen down to the compost pile in the backyard. For us, this is about more than discarding trash.

Gaining a sense of belonging

Some would assume that what we are attempting to do is to teach a work ethic, to enable our children to one day take on bigger responsibilities as they care for their own families. That’s certainly part of it. The book of Proverbs has much to say about sloth and the cultivation of hard work. But that’s hardly the whole of the matter.

Our main objective is not about employment but about eschatology. In order to get to that point, we have to teach our kids about family. Work is a part of helping our children see where they fit in our family, in order to gain a sense of belonging.  

Perhaps the first challenge in all of life is finding a sense of belonging. We want to know not just whether we are loved, but also if we are wanted and a part of the world around us. In the broadest sense possible, God defines that to us in his kingdom in two ways—through identity and through inheritance. The fundamental questions we ask are, “Who am I?” and, “Where am I going?” Both are questions of belonging, and work has a prominent place in both.

In the biblical world, this sense of belonging was, in some ways, more easily conveyed because children were with their parents working in the field or constructing a house or fishing a lake. A child could see how he belonged to the family because he was not just a “consumer,” but also an actual part of the household economy. The reverse is often true in our context. Parents are absent from much of their children’s lives, and they compensate for feeling guilty by buying their children more and more consumer goods.

That’s one of the reasons many of us find it hard to understand why the gospel hinges upon the idea of inheritance. We are children of God, the Spirit tells us, and if children then heirs, “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). The inheritance, though, is not, in the ancient context, a pile of cash reserves. More typically, the inheritance is a way of life. If a man’s father were a farmer, he would inherit a plot of land, a plot of land that had been cultivated and improved by his father’s labor.

The inheritance wouldn’t appear out of nowhere at the father’s death. The children would have been involved, all along, cultivating the land with the rest of the family. This reflects something true about the very fabric of the universe. Jesus told those around him that he saw what his Father was doing, and did likewise (Jn. 5:19-20).

A modern American family will not, of course, usually have the same sort of family burden-sharing as an ancient Middle Eastern family (and in most ways that is for the better). Even in terms of our vocations, our children probably don’t ever see what most of us do all day in our jobs, much less apprentice under us to do the same. There are nonetheless ways that a family can include every part of the household as part of the family’s mission together. This can start as soon as a child is old enough to do almost anything at all, with him being given a small chore that is his responsibility.

A very small child might be given a trashcan in a bathroom to check and empty every day. It would, of course, be easier to just do that yourself than to teach him to do it, cleaning up the trail of refuse he leaves behind in the trek from one room to the other. But as the child grows in age and ability, the child’s responsibilities grow too. The main point, though, is not to get a task done, and is really not so much to teach him to work (although that’s of course important), but to say to him, “You’re one of us. We need you.”

Training for God’s kingdom

Our Father disciplines us in this way, by gifting us for service in the church, by inviting us into his mission. In fact, one of the most important aspects of discipline from our Father is our learning to do small things in order that we may one day be given more authority over bigger things (Luke 16:10; 19:17). As important as we often think our careers or vocations or ministries are, they are really just a means of training us to do what we could not imagine now in the coming kingdom of Christ. God is just having us empty the little trash can into the bigger trash can in order to say to us, “You are part of this family; you belong.”

After all, God has saved us to be part of his kingdom. This kingdom is active and expansive. From the beginning of the creation, God granted to humanity an inheritance and then charged them to work, to steward and cultivate it for the generations to come (Gen. 1:26-30). In the life to come, we have a mission before us. We will rule and reign with Christ (Luke 22:29-30). Our lives in the meantime, even in the work we do, are just internships for the eschaton, ways of preparing us for an unimaginable future. God has given us a pattern of work and rest, modeling in some way his own creativity. Part of our job in parenting is to communicate this rhythm to our children.

Ironically enough, though, to teach our children to work as part of the family, we will have to restore to them play. Children and adolescents are often in an unceasing frenzy of activity—shuffled back and forth from drama rehearsal to ballet recitals to soccer practice, not to mention the ever-pressing demands of homework. Much of this is due to parental pressure—thinking we must schedule in all the right “extracurricular activities” so that our child will make it into college. Is it any wonder then that so many children and young adults are burned out and exhausted before they even make it to their 20s? As you teach your children to work, remember that work is a means to a different end, and allow them to enjoy childhood and adolescence.

Learning to serve

Encouraging work within the household also must have the goal of teaching our children to work on behalf of others, not just for their own achievement or acquisition. Find ways to assign responsibilities for your children that will tangibly benefit other siblings, and then the broader world. One of the most important ways this happens is through churches including children in the service.

Too often, we think of the church’s ministry to children as providing activities to teach them the Bible and to give them a positive experience of church. Every believer, though, is called to be a priest to the rest of the body of Christ (1 Pet. 2:9) and is gifted for the task of building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:7-16). This starts at baptism.

Churches that find ways to include children and teenagers in ministry and mission are serving the cause of discipleship, even if that is as simple as asking technologically-gifted teenagers to maintain the church’s soundboard or asking others to help take up the offering or distribute bulletins at the front door of the sanctuary. In this, the church parents the next generation toward serving the church in the commission of Christ.

We live in an era that simultaneously fears and idolizes work. Our call in maturing the next generation is to teach our children to work “as unto the Lord” (Eph. 6:7), while, at the same time, showing them that no matter how important work might seem, we are just training for our ultimate callings, in the age to come. Above all, we are to teach them that we are not ultimately consumers but disciples who belong in the family of God. And sometimes that starts with a garbage pail.

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a former President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. His book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24